Ralph Hirschmann is the Rao Makineni Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. He has made seminal contributions to organic, medicinal and bioorganic chemistry for over fifty years. A naturalized American citizen, born in Bavaria, Germany, he came to the US in his teens and earned a B.A. degree from Oberlin College in 1943. Following three years of military service during World War II, he entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin (Madison), where he received a Ph.D. degree under the mentorship of Professor William S. Johnson in 1950.
Dr. Hirschmann joined the Merck Research Laboratories in 1950 as a process research chemist and retired in 1987, having served as Senior Vice President of Chemistry and of Basic Research. During his tenure, his team discovered and/or developed several major drugs including Vasotec, Lisinopril, Primaxin, Ivomec, Mevacor and Proscar. Early in his career (1952), he discovered the steroidal C-nor-D-homo rearrangement. During the 1960s, with Robert G. Denkewalter, he directed the first solution total synthesis of an enzyme, ribonuclease S (RNase S).
In 1987, Dr. Hirschmann started a second career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he initiated collaborative research in the field of peptidomimetics. The collaborations with biologists in the pharmaceutical industry were critical for the success of this research. The Penn teams have published 63 papers, mostly describing new approaches to the design of peptidomimetics and (with Benkovic) of haptens for the generation of catalytic antibodies.
Dr. Hirschmann has been recognized with three honorary degrees and three endowed lectureships; three chairs are linked to his name. He has received recognition through many awards including the Merck & Co. Inc. Board of Directors Scientific Award and the National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Senior Fellow of the Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Mendel Medal Presentation Program, March 13, 2004. Villanova University, Villanova, Pennsylvania.