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Dr. Celia A. Schiffer is the Gladys Smith Martin Chair in Oncology, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, and Director of the Institute of Drug Resistance at the University of Massachusetts Medical School where she has been on the faculty since 1998.  Dr. Schiffer has a BA in physics from the University of Chicago, PhD in biophysics from University of California, San Francisco, with postdoctoral training at the ETH in Zurich, Switzerland and Genentech, Inc. in S. San Francisco.

Dr. Schiffer’s contributions to science are in defining the field of drug resistance and developing framework to avoid drug resistance from the very initial design phase. As a structural virologist and molecular biophysicist, she integrates crystallography, enzymology, molecular dynamics and organic chemistry to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of drug resistance and develop robust inhibitors that avoid resistance. She discovered that drug resistance occurs when mutations in the target enzyme alter the balance of substrate recognition to inhibitor binding to favor the substrates. Mechanistically she demonstrated that resistance mutations either 1) occur where drugs physically contact regions of the drug target that are not essential for substrate recognition or 2) alter the ensemble dynamics of the drug target. These resistance mutations are selected from sequence heterogeneities that are often introduced in cancer or viruses by APOBEC3s where she leads the field in structure determination. Dr. Schiffer defined the substrate envelope and successfully designed inhibitors that minimize the likelihood for resistance in structure-based drug design. She delineated a strategy of parallel molecular dynamics to capture how mutations (often remote from the active site) equate with alterations in inhibitor potency. The strategies Dr. Schiffer derived through her work with the viral proteases of HIV and Hepatitis C are generally applicable in the development of novel drugs that are less susceptible to resistance in other quickly evolving diseases. She is currently applying these strategies to the viral proteases of SARS-CoV-2.

Culminating from her research to obtain key insights into drug resistance, Dr. Schiffer has acquired and led numerous collaborative NIH grants from NIGMS and NIAID and has over 180 publications. In this effort, she has mentored a diverse laboratory of over 50 scholars including 27 doctoral students. In 2012 she conceptualized and founded the Institute for Drug Resistance. Dr. Schiffer has numerous awards and recognitions. In 2015 she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2016 she received the UMass Medical School Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring and the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research Educator of the year. In 2020 she became the chair of the board of the wwPDB Foundation.  In April 2021 she will be awarded the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 2020 William C. Rose Award, which recognizes a demonstrated commitment to the training of younger scientists and outstanding contributions to biochemical and molecular biological research.