Eagle Star: Schinazi Wins by Making Viruses Lose

Eagle Star: Schinazi Wins by Making Viruses Lose

By Kevin Madigan | kmadigan@atljewishtimes.com

BIZ-Eagles_Dr. Schinazi Headshot
Dr. Raymond Schinazi estimates that 94 percent of the world’s HIV sufferers are treated with drugs he had a hand in developing.

Dr. Raymond Schinazi, a professor of pediatrics and chemistry at Emory University’s School of Medicine, is receiving the 2015 Tom Glazer Leadership Award at the Eagle Star Awards Gala.

The gala, the premiere annual event of American-Israeli business liaison Conexx, is being held downtown at Georgia Power on May 28.
The award “recognizes the achievements of an individual who has provided inspirational and strong leadership in furthering the cause of U.S.-Israel business and economic relationship,” Conexx said in a statement. “This coveted award is given to someone who is an exemplary community ambassador, demonstrates passion for Israel, has pioneered deals and reflects the mission of Conexx.”

Schinazi, who is also the director of the Laboratory of Biochemical Pharmacology at the college, is best known for his work developing drug combinations for treating HIV and his research into hepatitis C and liver disease.

He has an “unrivaled record in founding biotech companies to commercialize research in antiviral drugs,” according to Conexx.

Those companies have made Schinazi not only successful, but also wealthy and somewhat controversial, according to a recent article titled “King of the Pills” in the magazine Science. “Not perfect or flattering but good,” Schinazi said of Jon Cohen’s piece, in which he is labeled a “polarizing force” and a “bear-sized man who speaks bluntly, negotiates fiercely, and favors splashy, multicolored shirts.”

Cohen missed the point, Schinazi said. “He focused too much on the money, in my opinion, not the discoveries behind it, and the science. He should have spoken to my friends and colleagues who understand the pain I had to go through to get to where I am. It’s not just about dollars and cents.”

Born in Egypt to Italian Jews, Schinazi attended boarding school in England and studied chemistry at the University of Bath. He then joined Yale’s pharmacology department for his post-doctoral work in nucleoside chemistry before landing at Emory.

He spoke to the Atlanta Jewish Times by phone from Paris, where he was attending a French government conference on curing hepatitis B. This is a man who enjoys his work even though he works with diseases that are often dire.

“I always enjoy the passion of discovery and finding the truth. Treatment is fun, but curing is even more fun. You’re bringing a problem to an end, so it’s not just a recurring problem where you have suffering,” he said.

Calling himself a workaholic, Schinazi is proud of his accomplishments. “As you know, we’ve been very successful with hepatitis C. We got a cure for that.”

He said his human immunodeficiency virus medicines are “the foundation of any antiviral and HIV therapy,” and he estimated that drugs he has been involved with or invented are used by 94 percent of the world’s HIV sufferers.

“Once you’re successful, it’s like being a jockey at the races. You win one race, and then you want to win the next one,” he said, though he acknowledged it hasn’t always been easy. “There have been failures. You can’t succeed every time. You learn from your failures. That’s what it’s all about.”

He credited hard work, long hours, a bit of luck and the help of colleagues for his prosperity. “I’m very grateful to them,” he said. “We’ve supported each other. Some I continue to work with. Others went their own way. But that’s part of life. I’m very much a collaborative person — I love to collaborate.”
The 65-year-old chemist has definite plans. “We are focusing more of our research on curative therapy — not just for HIV like we’ve been doing, but for arthritis, Alzheimer’s. … We don’t want to develop Band-Aids; we want to solve the problem. Stop it completely, end of story.”

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