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Retrosynthesis explained: An interview with Tim Cernak

This podcast is brought to you by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

Retrosynthesis explained: An interview with Tim Cernak

Recorded 19 November 2020


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Chemical synthesis is the foundation of small molecule drug development. Technological and computational breakthroughs have brought about a renaissance in this field, particularly for retrosynthesis, which describes the process of working backwards from a target product to determine the quickest and most cost effective pathways to generate that target. This promises to have a significant impact on the generation of new, more potent, and more personalized medications.
In this conversation, I interview Dr. Tim Cernak from University of Michigan about recent advances in retrosynthesis and some of the ongoing challenges.


For more information about Synthia™ retrosynthesis software, please go to:


[Music: Ice Climb/Podington Bear; Podcast editing: Castos; Podcast production: Sean Sanders]

Speaker bios

Tim Cernak, Ph.D.

University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI

Dr. Cernak was born in Montreal, Canada. He obtained a bachelor’s in chemistry from the University of British Columbia Okanagan, where he studied the aroma profile of Chardonnay wines. Following Ph.D. training in total synthesis with Jim Gleason at McGill University, he became a Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies postdoctoral fellow with Tristan Lambert at Columbia University in New York. In 2009, Dr. Cernak joined the Medicinal Chemistry team at Merck Sharp & Dohme in Rahway, New Jersey. There he developed technologies for miniaturized synthesis and late-stage functionalization. In 2013, he moved to Merck’s Boston site and 5 years later, transitioned from industry to academia and launched a lab at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry. The Cernak Lab explores the interface of chemical synthesis and data science.

Sean Sanders, Ph.D.

Washington, DC

Dr. Sanders did his undergraduate training at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, UK, supported by the Wellcome Trust. Following postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health and Georgetown University, Dr. Sanders joined TranXenoGen, a startup biotechnology company in Massachusetts working on avian transgenics. Pursuing his parallel passion for writing and editing, Dr. Sanders joined BioTechniques as an editor, before joining Science/AAAS in 2006. Currently, Dr. Sanders is the Director and Senior Editor for Custom Publishing for the journal Science and Program Director for Outreach.

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