Striving for Sustainability in Drug Development

Vent hood in a chemistry lab at UNCWhen asked about Pedro de Jesús Cruz ’22 (PhD), Jeffrey Johnson — A. Ronald Gallant Distinguished Professor in the chemistry department — lauded his determination.

“Pedro will run through a brick wall to get something done,” said Johnson. “He has a phenomenally positive attitude that served him well in our research projects, and he’s just delightful to talk with about science.”

De Jesús Cruz started his undergraduate studies at the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey as a computer engineering student. As a prerequisite, he took a general chemistry course.

“I fell in love. I knew chemistry research was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have many opportunities to pursue it where I lived.”

He came to Carolina to attend UNC-Chapel Hill’s Summer Undergraduate Research Opportunity in Chemistry and then continued with a year-long post baccalaureate program. De Jesús Cruz then entered Carolina’s doctoral program in chemistry.

During his time studying in Chapel Hill, the first-generation college student was also learning English.

“I essentially had to relearn how to talk about [chemistry] in general because of the differences in the English and Spanish languages,” he recalled.

But he pushed forward, delving into complex problems with encouragement and support from professors like Johnson, who was senior author on their most recent proof-of-concept study that evaluates purification techniques in the large-scale production of chemicals.

The research team found what they said was hidden in plain sight: a practical way to reduce cost, time and waste in drug development by combining the creation and purification steps.

“If you can access more of the compound in a practical way, we could make chemistry more sustainable,” de Jesús Cruz said.

Read more about the collaborative study…

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