Published: 23rd November 2018
Dr Ganapathy Subramanian is from Tirunelveli, but his work towards cancer treatment is taking him places
He has also worked as an exchange visitor at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a biopharmaceutical company in the USA
In his childhood, Dr Ganapathy Subramanian was more interested in playing cricket and chess, but it was the various colour changes he witnessed during the time he spent in the chemistry lab that caught his fancy. Cut to the present. He is a former research fellow at Harvard University and is currently pursuing his postdoctoral research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA. He has also worked towards improving the treatment for cancer disease by developing cost-effective synthetic routes for an important Food and Drug Administration-approved anticancer molecule. We chat with him about scope in the field of research and his own work. Excerpts:
How did you decide on pursuing the field of research? Additionally, how should a student identify that they are cut out for this field?
I had my own uncle who excelled in the field of chemistry and got inspiration and motivation from him. It was during my master's programme in Loyola College, Chennai, where I became more curious about the reaction mechanisms which helped in understanding the underpinnings of organic chemistry. You have to love what you do or learn and one has to identify what that is as early as possible. As a student, one has to look for opportunities to participate in various workshops in different fields.
Dr Subramanian has also worked with Prof Yoshito Kishi at Harvard University (who conducted his postdoctoral research with Nobel laureate Robert Burns Woodward) and learned sheer dedication from him
How far has the process of patenting your approach to improve the process of making the anticancer molecule eribulin mesylate reached? Also, how did you manage to reduce the commercial production cost to one third when compared to the existing process?
Currently, efforts are in progress in collaboration with a pharma company which is commercializing the drug to patent the new method. The cost of producing the molecule in large-scale depends on many factors such as high overall yield, looking for cheaper and commercially available raw materials, simplifying the purification process and more. We developed a new process to make the molecule with a lesser number of steps and a higher overall yield than the earlier methods, which reduced the production cost significantly.
Equipping himself: Dr Subramanian pursued his PhD from Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad
Can you tell us a little about what you are working on currently?
I am currently working on making design and development of novel bioluminescent probes. Bioluminescence is a chemical reaction between an enzyme called Luciferase and a chemical substance called Luciferin that produces light. These probes act as reporters and help us to understand the complex biological processes in cells by measuring the amount of light produced in the enzyme-catalysed chemical reaction. I recently discovered novel molecules which illuminates ABLL (a class of non-luminous enzymes) for the first time. This new discovery is very helpful in biomedical research to non-invasively monitor various types of cancer. These recent findings are published in ACS Chemical Biology, a journal published by the American chemical society.
Dr Ganapathy Subramanian feels that, "As a student, one has to utilise the opportunity which comes their way. One has to attend workshops, conferences and trainings. This will help them to get good exposure. Networking is also instrumental."
What is the scope of this field in India?
As a synthetic chemist, you can choose to work as a scientist in premier institutes such as IITs, IISERs and various institutes belonging to the council for Scientific and Industrial Research. There are plenty of opportunities in big pharmaceutical companies like Cipla, Dr Reddy’s, Biocon, Sanofi and Piramal.