Dr. Dennis Liotta


Through his discoveries, Professor Dennis Liotta has helped to transform HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic infection in which patients are able to live active, near normal lives.  The Emory Office of Technology Transfer estimates that greater than ninety per cent of all of the HIV-infected persons in the United States take (or have taken) one of the drugs he invented.  His contributions are not restricted to AIDS: (a) one of the drugs he discovered, Lamivudine (Epivir-HBV), became the first drug approved for the treatment of hepatitis B; and (b) a company he founded, Pharmasset (acquired by Gilead Sciences two years ago) developed Sofosbuvir, which has become the first line therapy for treating (and perhaps curing) hepatitis C.  Moreover, in his current role as Executive Director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development, Dennis participated in the discovery and development of another novel nucleoside analogue, EIDD-2023, for treating hepatitis C infections.  His research group has also recently discovered the first potent, dual tropic (CCR5/CXCR4) HIV entry inhibitor.

Over the past two and a half decades Dr. Liotta’s research has focused on the discovery and development of novel antiviral, anticancer and anti-inflammatory therapeutic agents.  He is one of the leaders of the Emory team that discovered the antiviral drug, Emtriva (emtricitabine), which was approved for treating HIV in July 2003.  Emtriva is a component of the ground breaking, once a day, triple combination therapy, Atripla, which is now universally accepted as the drug combination of choice for treating HIV infected patients.  In addition, he is the inventor of record for several clinically important antivirals, including Epivir, Reverset, Racivir and Elvucitabine.  He is also the lead inventor of Q-122 (formerly known as MSX-122), a safe, orally available clinical agent for controlling hot flashes in post-menopausal women.

Dennis is an inventor on 75 issued US patents, many of which cover the antiviral and anticancer drugs and drug candidates he has discovered.  In the United States he is recognized as one of the premier discoverers of novel therapeutics, having been one of the inventors associated with ten FDA approved therapeutics including Epivir, Combivir, Trizivir, Epzicom, Epivir-HBV, Emtriva, Truvada, Atripla, Complera and Stribid.  In addition to Pharmasset mentioned above, Dennis has founded numerous other companies including: (a) Altiris (drugs for stem cell mobilization and as potential treatments for a variety of cancers); (b) Triangle Pharmaceuticals (developed emtricitabine and was subsequently acquired by Gilead Science); (c) NeurOp (therapies for treating ischemic conditions, such as stroke); (d) Syn4P (drugs for treating traumatic brain injuries in emergency situations); (e) iThemba Pharmaceuticals (a South African company that is developing continuous flow manufacturing techniques to cost effectively produce generic drugs); (f) FOB Synthesis, which has developed a drug (licensed to Astra Zeneca) for treating acinetobacter infection; (g) QUE Oncology, a joint venture owned by the University of Queensland and Emory, that is carrying out the Q-122 clinical trials (vide supra); and (h) DRIVE (Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory, a non-profit drug development company focused on the development of therapies for treating single stranded RNA virus infections, such as Dengue Fever, hepatitis C, influenza A and B, respiratory syncytial virus and various equine encephalitis viruses).  DRIVE utilizes an innovative model that seeks to extract maximum value from therapeutic innovations discovered at Emory or elsewhere by efficiently advancing them into clinical trials.

Dennis is also vitally interested in education.  He has supervised 97 postdoctoral and graduate students, and has received several teaching awards.  He is the recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest award given by Emory University, as well as its 175 Emory History Makers Medal.  He is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society.  Dennis was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2014 and the Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame in 2010.  He is the recipient of the 2005 Herty Medal, sponsored by the GA Section of the ACS, the 2011 IP Legends Award, sponsored by Georgia State University College of Law and J. Mack Robinson College of Business and the 2003 Biomedical Industry Growth Award, sponsored by the Georgia Biomedical Partnership (now GA BIO).  In 2012 he received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from the University of Queensland (Brisbane, Australia) and his alma mater, Queens College.

In South Africa Dennis has initiated a series of outreach activities aimed at providing the next generation of African scientists with the science, business and legal skills they will need to address their own healthcare needs.  With regard to the former, Dennis has set up a scholar exchange program in partnership with the South African government, Scynexis (a chemistry CRO in the US) and Glaxo SmithKline in Europe that allows postdoctoral researchers and graduate students to spend a year learning about drug discovery and development.  In addition, he created a yearlong program that teaches scientists about the business and legal aspects of the biopharmaceutical sector.  The program includes a workshop, a weeklong executive education program taught by Emory Business School professors and a business plan competition.  The winners of the competition receive seed funding from the South African government to start their businesses.  This program is, in part, funded by grants from Pfizer and Gilead Sciences.

Dennis is the founding Editor-in-Chief of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters (ACS MCL), which was launched in 2010 to provide a rapid communication venue for high-quality letters and technology notes in medicinal chemistry and related fields.  Under his leadership, ACS MCL has become one of the preeminent journals for the dissemination of innovative medicinal chemistry reports.  Dennis also serves as the Associate Director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research.