Ralph Hirschmann,who earned his PhD in our department in 1950, died June 20 in Lansdale, PA. He was 87. Hirschmann was an organic chemist whose long career included many contributions to the chemistry and biology of anti-inflammatory steroids; to synthetic methods in peptide chemistry; to elucidating the chemistry, biology, and structure activity relationships of hypothalamic releasing factors, especially somatostatin and TRH; to the design and synthesis of numerous pharmaceuticals; and to the field of peptidomimetics.
Hirschmann and R.G. Denkewalter led the Merck & Co. team that achieved the first in-vitro synthesis of an enzyme,
ribonuclease S'. This total synthesis in solution, along with Merrifield's on solid support, demonstrated that the amino
acid sequence of a small protein such as ribonuclease A determines its tertiary structure in aqueous medium. This
major achievement received worldwide front page coverage in 1969.
In 1971 Hirschmann became the head of the Department of New Lead Discovery at Merck and in 1978 he was named Senior
Vice President for Basic Research in Chemistry at the Merck Research Laboratories. During his tenure as head of Basic Research at Merck, his teams discovered and/or developed many widely used medicines important for the treatment of infectious diseases, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia. These included Vasotec, Lisinopril, Primaxin, Mevacor, Proscar, and Ivomec. The antiparasitic drug Ivomec all but eradicated river blindness, a dreaded disease of the developing world. It is also widely used in the treatment of roundworm in livestock and the prevention of heartworm in dogs.
In 1987, after his mandatory retirement from Merck at the age of 65, Hirschmann started a second career at the University of
Pennsylvania where he served as the Rao Makineni Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry. During his nearly six highly productive decades as a chemist, he was inventor or co-inventor on over 100 patents and authored or co-authored approximately 200 publications.
In 2000 he received the country's highest scientific award from President Clinton: The National Medal of Science. In
2007 he was inducted into the American Chemical Society's Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame. His research was also recognized with many other awards and honors including the Nichols Medal, the Alfred Burger Award, the Arthur C. Cope Medal, and the Willard Gibbs Medal. Dr. Hirschmann was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and a Senior Fellow of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
A native of Fürth, Bavaria, Germany, Hirschmann immigrated to the United States in 1937 and became a US citizen