(AUSTIN, Texas, Feb. 18, 2014; updated March 25, 2014) The American Botanical Council (ABC) recognized Gordon M. Cragg, PhD, of Bethesda, Maryland, as the recipient of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award for 2013. Dr. Cragg is a former research director of the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), where he was involved in the NCI’s search for new cancer medicines from plants and other natural sources. ABC presents this award each year to a person who or an institution that has made significant contributions to ethnobotanical and/or pharmacognostic research (i.e., research on drugs of natural origin, usually from plants).
Dr. Cragg spent the majority of his professional career at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute. He was appointed chief of the NCI’s Natural Products Branch (NPB) in 1989; he officially retired in 2004, but has remained highly active with the department as an NIH Special Volunteer. During his time at the NPB, Dr. Cragg received three NIH Awards of Merit for his efforts: for his contributions to the development of the highly successful anticancer drug Taxol and related derivative compounds; for his leadership in establishing international collaborative research in biodiversity and natural products drug discovery; and for his teaching contributions to NIH technology transfer courses.
After growing up in rural South Africa, Dr. Cragg earned his BSc in chemistry from Rhodes University in 1957. He attended the University of Oxford for a PhD in organic chemistry, after which he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA, focusing on the biosynthesis of plant hormones.
Throughout his career, Dr. Cragg has advocated for natural products research and worked to protect the source materials for drug discovery. For example, Dr. Cragg’s commitment to responsible natural products research is evident in his work in Brazil. He contributed to the development of natural product chemistry programs in the northeast and southeast regions of the country. Furthermore, he played a pivotal role in an initiative to protect the country’s biodiversity and sustainability efforts that led to the exploration of new potential pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and agrochemical products.
Dr. Cragg was elected president of the American Society of Pharmacognosy in 1998 and subsequently became an honorary member of the society in 2003. In 2010, Dr. Cragg was presented with the William L. Brown Award for Excellence in Genetic Resource Conservation by the Missouri Botanical Garden; during the symposium held in honor of the award, a newly discovered Madagascan plant — Ludia craggiana — was named for Dr. Cragg.
“Gordon Cragg is recognized around the world as a leading figure in the efforts to discover new anticancer drugs from plants and other natural materials,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC. “He has a reputation of being a first-class scientist, a friendly collaborator, and an empowering mentor to other researchers. ABC is honored to recognize Dr. Cragg with the annual ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.”
Numerous professional colleagues of Dr. Cragg’s were unanimous in praise of his work and selection as the recipient of the ABC Farnsworth Award.
“Gordon’s work in this area has been groundbreaking and creative,” said Paul Coates, PhD, director of the Office of Dietary Supplements at NIH. “I have known Gordon personally for about 10 years, during which time we have co-edited two editions of the Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements along with other distinguished colleagues. Gordon’s expertise, insight, and careful attention to experimental detail helped to make the botanical entries in the Encyclopedia first-rate and extremely useful.”
“Gordon Cragg has been a diplomat in the cause of plant biodiversity and honest relations between the NCI and ‘source countries’ even before the Convention on Biodiversity was signed,” said John Beutler, PhD, associate scientist at the Molecular Targets Lab at the NCI and member of the ABC Advisory Board. “His scientific knowledge and thoughtful approach have won him many friends in many countries, and make him a very deserving choice for ABC’s Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award.”
“Gordon Cragg is a most worthy candidate for the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Award. Long a proponent of research on plants, he has always advocated doing it the right way — proper documentation of collection and taxonomic identification and sustainable collections,” said John Cardellina II, PhD, distinguished scientist at the Chemistry and Technical Innovation Center of McCormick and Co., Inc., and member of the ABC Advisory Board. “He was an early, staunch advocate of indigenous rights and returning value to the country of origin. In many ways, he reminds me of Professor Farnsworth — a scholar of broad academic interests who advocated solid scientific research and quality standards for plants and plant products consumed by humans for health benefits.”
The Excellence in Botanical Research Award’s namesake is ABC’s co-founding Board of Trustees member, the late Professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, a research professor of pharmacognosy and senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois — Chicago. When Professor Farnsworth died in 2011 at the age of 81, the global medicinal plant community lost one of its greatest champions.
“The naming of the award after Professor Norman Farnsworth is of huge significance to me,” wrote Dr. Cragg. “I had the pleasure and privilege of being associated with his dynamic leadership and research in the area of drug discovery from plants and other natural sources for well over 20 years, and his contributions to the National Cancer Institute natural products program over many decades were outstanding. He was truly a giant in our field of research!
“[Mark Blumenthal and his] colleagues at the American Botanical Council have been highly effective advocates and spokespeople for the essential role played by medicinal plants and phytomedicines in healthcare worldwide,” continued Dr. Cragg, “and I wish to thank [Mark] and the Awards Committee of the ABC Board of Trustees most sincerely for bestowing this tremendous honor on me. It is a great pleasure for me to accept this prestigious award, and I feel truly humbled to be joining the group of eminent scientists who have been previous recipients of the award.”
Past recipients of the ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award are highly accomplished and respected researchers from around the world. They include the following: Joseph M. Betz, PhD, of the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements (2005); Professor Edzard Ernst, MD, PhD, formerly of the Peninsula Medical School at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom (2006); Professor Hildebert Wagner, PhD, of the Institute for Pharmaceutical Biology in Munich, Germany (2007); Dr. Ikhlas Khan of the University of Mississippi’s National Center for Natural Products Research (2008); Professor Rudolf Bauer, PhD, head of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the Karl-Franzens University of Graz in Austria (2009); Professor A. Douglas Kinghorn, PhD, chair of the department of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy in the College of Pharmacy at Ohio State University (2010); Professor Djaja D. Soejarto, PhD, of the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois — Chicago (2011); and Professor De-An Guo, PhD, director of the State Engineering Laboratory for Traditional Chinese Medicine Standardization Technology and director of the Shanghai Research Center for TCM Modernization at the Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (2012).
The ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award was presented to Dr. Cragg in absentia at the 9th Annual ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony on March 6 in Anaheim, California. The ABC event occurred during the NEXT Innovation Summit (formerly Nutracon) nutrition, natural products, and dietary supplements conference and Natural Products Expo West.
The ABC Botanical Celebration and Awards Ceremony was underwritten by generous contributions from the following members of the herb, dietary supplement, and natural products industry (i.e., raw material suppliers, supplement and tea manufacturers, analytical laboratories, a law firm, an insurer, a media company, and a trade organization):