Pickett, Cecil 1945–
Cecil Pickett 1945–
Enjoyed the Challenge of Science
Built a Career in Pharmaceutical Research
Cecil Pickett is the president of the Schering-Plough Research Institute, where he directs all research and development activities for the pharmaceutical company, Schering-Plough Corporation. He spent the first part of his career working for Merck Research Laboratories as the head of research at the Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research in Montreal, Canada, and later as the senior vice president of research before joining Schering-Plough. He has been directly involved in the development of several important drugs for various health ailments, such as high cholesterol, asthma, arthritis, cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease. He has published numerous articles on his research, and he is highly regarded in his field. Pickett has taught at several prominent medical schools in the United States and Canada and has served on various scientific advisory committees.
Enjoyed the Challenge of Science
Cecil Bruce Pickett was born on October 5, 1945, in Canton, Illinois. He was the second of nine children born to Charles and Florence Pickett. His father was originally a farmer, who later worked as a laborer for the International Harvester Company, and his mother was a homemaker. All of the Pickett children became successful in their respective careers, although Cecil was the only child to earn a college degree.
Pickett describes his early childhood as typical of a small Midwestern town. He spent his first four years of elementary school at Anderson School and then he attended Kellogg School for grades five and six. His interest in science began in grade school and continued throughout his education. At Canton Junior High and Canton Senior High Schools, Pickett’s favorite subjects were math, chemistry, and biology. Pickett told Contemporary Black Biography (CBB) in January of 2003, “they were the only subjects I felt were challenging and kept my attention.” Outside of the classroom Pickett also enjoyed playing baseball as a youth. In addition, he had a paper route and mowed lawns to earn some extra money.
After high school Pickett moved to California and went to college at the University of California, Berkeley. He later transferred to California State University, where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology in 1971. Aside from attending classes, Pickett also worked full time at Cutter Laboratories in Berkeley, where he fractionated blood products, in order to support his family and pay for his education. This did not leave him much time to pursue extracurricular activities in college, but the experience reinforced Pickett’s strong work ethic which has been evident throughout his career.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, Pickett realized that he would also have to obtain a graduate degree in order to advance in his field. He earned a teaching fellowship to pursue a Ph.D. in biology at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Pickett worked with Dr. Joseph Cascarano at UCLA, who was instrumental in shaping Pickett’s career. He graduated in 1976 and stayed at UCLA for two more years as a fellow in cellular biology. In 1978 Pickett was named as a Macy
At a Glance…
Born Cecil Bruce Pickett on October 5, 1945, in Canton, IL; married Shirley; children: two daughters. Education: California State University, BS, 1971; University of California Los Angeles, PhD, 1976.
Career: University of California Los Angeles, fellow in cellular biology, 1976-78; College of Medicine, Howard University, Washington, D.C., visiting assistant professor, 1978-83; New Jersey School of Medicine and Dentistry, adjunct associate professor, 1985-88; University of Montreal, associate professor, 1990; McGill University, adjunct professor, 1990; Merck Research Laboratories, senior research biochemist, 1978-93, senior vice president, 1993; Schering-Plough Corporation, executive vice president of research, 1993-02, president, 2002-.
Selected memberships: U.S. Food and Drug Administration Science Board; American Society for Cell Biology; American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology; American Association for Cancer Research; American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Awards: Macy Scholar, Marine Biological Laboratories, 1978; Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, 1993; Distinguished Lecturer, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, UCLA, 1995; Chemical Industry Institute of Technology Centers for Health Research Founders Award, 2001.
Address: Office —Schering-Plough Corporation, World Headquarters, 2000 Galloping Hill Road, Kenilworth, NJ 07033-0530.
Scholar at the Marine Biological Laboratories in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Built a Career in Pharmaceutical Research
While most biologists during this time were pursuing academic careers, Pickett decided to take a different career path and work for a private corporation. Roy Vagelos, the president of Merck Research Laboratories, and Al Alberts, a department head at Merck, recruited Pickett to join their company as a researcher. Both Vagelos and Alberts were well-respected scientists who had a significant impact on Pickett’s career. Al Alberts’ laboratory had discovered the cholesterol-lowering drugs called Mevacor and Zocor and Pickett became part of the development team to secure worldwide approval for these cutting-edge drugs.
Pickett was also allowed to pursue his own research agenda at Merck. One of the benefits of the position was that Pickett had a lot of control over his research. As he continued his work in drug metabolism, Pickett also took on more administrative responsibilities. He soon became the associate director of the department of molecular pharmacology and biochemistry and he later earned the position of director of the same department.
In 1988 Pickett became the head of research at the Merck Frosst Centre for Therapeutic Research in Montreal, Canada. In this position, Pickett was responsible for recruiting scientists to the research laboratories. He also participated in an executive committee that oversaw Merck operations in Canada, which allowed him to learn about the broader issues of the pharmaceutical business. Pickett also continued his own work in drug metabolism. His research team at Merck Frosst discovered the asthma drug, Singulair, and they laid the foundation for the discovery of Vioxx, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for arthritis. In January of 1993 Pickett was promoted to the position of senior vice president of basic research for Merck Research Laboratories in Montreal, Canada, and West Point, Pennsylvania.
Led Drug Discovery Program
In August of 1993 Pickett accepted a position as executive vice president of discovery research at Schering-Plough Research Institute where he was responsible for the planning, management, and oversight of the company’s new drug discovery programs across all therapeutic areas. Pickett was also responsible for coordinating the drug discovery programs with other research and commercial components of the company. “Drug discovery,” Pickett explained to Mitch Kaplan of Continental magazine in January of 2003, “is basically starting with a hypothesis and a specific molecular target—a biochemical target, an enzyme, a receptor—involved in a disease process, and discovering an inhibitor, an antagonist or agonist to that particular molecular target that will have activity to that particular disease.” This is a slow, painstaking process that requires much patience and persistence since, on average, it takes about 12 years to develop a new drug.
Under Pickett’s leadership the drug discovery program tripled the number of chemists employed in the department and expanded all therapeutic areas. He also led Schering-Plough into a new area of research, namely central nervous system disorders, where Pickett expected to see major developments in the next couple of decades. Despite his increased administrative responsibilities, Pickett continued to supervise his own laboratory to remain directly involved in research activities. Pickett has been involved in the development of the drugs Zetia, a cholesterol absorption inhibitor, and two drugs that are in the later stages of clinical trials, Noxafil, a broad-spectrum anti-fungal drug, and Sa-rasar, a novel anticancer compound. He is also working on the development of new drugs to treat Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), as well as Parkinson’s disease.
Pickett’s significant contributions to the drug discovery program earned him another promotion. In March of 2002 Pickett became the president of the Schering-Plough Research Institute, where he is responsible for all aspects of research and development for the company. Pickett advocated four strategies for managing a successful research and development institute. First, Pickett said it is important for organizations to understand the importance of recruiting and retaining talented employees. Second, he stressed that organizations should encourage open communication and discussion among all employees. Third, Pickett pointed to the need to prioritize issues and resources. Lastly, he recommended that an organization maintain a sense of urgency among its staff to complete projects.
Contributed to Academia
Throughout his career Pickett has shared his wealth of knowledge and experience from the corporate world with academia. From 1978 to 1983 Pickett was a visiting assistant professor at the College of Medicine at Howard University in Washington, D.C. From 1985 to 1988 he was an adjunct associate professor at the New Jersey School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 1989 he was an associate professor at the University of Montreal and in 1990 he worked as an adjunct professor at McGill University. He has also published numerous articles about his research in several prominent scientific journals.
Pickett’s research successes and leadership skills have also been publicly recognized in the scientific community. Pickett was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences for his groundbreaking research in the regulation of gene expression by oxidative stress. In 2001 he was also awarded the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology Centers for Health Research Founders Award for significant contributions to science. In 2002 he was named one of the 50 most powerful black executives in America by Fortune magazine.
Pickett has been married to his wife, Shirley, since 1967 and he credits her for much of his professional success. The couple have two daughters who are in their twenties. Pickett and his wife are active supporters of the Newark Museum in New Jersey and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Pickett also serves on numerous scientific advisory committees in the United States and Canada and he is involved in several scientific professional associations.
(With J.D. Hayes and T.J. Mantle, eds.) Glutathione S-Transferases and Drug Resistance, Taylor & Francis, 1990.
(With Alan J. Townsend and Merrill E. Goldsmith) “Isolation, Characterization, and Expression in Escherichia Coli of Two Murine Mu Class Glutathione S-transferase cDNAs as Homologous to the Rat Subunits 3 (Yb1) and 4 (Yb2),” Journal of Biological Chemistry, December 25, 1989.
(With Anthony Y.H. Lu) “Glutathione S-transferases: Gene Structure, Regulation, and Biological Function,” Annual Review of Biochemistry, 1989.
(With Truyen Nguyen) “Regulation of Rat Glutathione S-transferase Ya Subunit Gene Expression. DNA-protein Interaction at the Antioxidant Responsive Element,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, July 5, 1992.
(With Leonard V. Favreau) “Transcriptional Regulation of the Rat NAD(P)H:quinone Reductase Rene. Characterization of a DNA-protein Interaction at the Antioxidant Responsive Element and Induction by 12-O-tetradecanoylphorbol 13-acetate,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, September 15, 1993.
(With Truyen Nguyen and Thomas H. Rushmore) “Transcriptional Regulation of a Rat Liver Glutathione S-transferase Ya Subunit Gene,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 6, 1994.
(With Leonard V. Favreau) “The Rat Quinone Reductase Antioxidant Response Element,” The Journal of Biological Chemistry, October 13, 1995.
(With Suxing Liu) “The Rat Liver Glutathione S-transferase Ya Subunit Gene: Characterization of the Binding Properties of a Nuclear Protein from HepG2 Cells that Has High Affinity for the Antioxidant Response Element,” Biochemistry, September 3, 1996.
(With Truyen Nguyen and H.C.) “Transcriptional Regulation of the Antioxidant Response Element. Activation by Nrf2 and Repression by MafK,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, May 19, 2000.
(With H.C. Huang and Truyen Nguyen) “Phosphorylation of Nrf2 at Ser-40 by Protein Kinase C Regulates Antioxidant Response Element-mediated Transcription,” Journal of Biological Chemistry, November 8, 2002.
The Complete Marquis Who’s Who, Marquis Who’s Who, 2001.
Business Week, October 14, 1994; October 28, 2002.
Cancerweekly Plus, November 15, 1999.
Continental, January 2003.
Fortune, July 8, 2002.
Genomics and Genetics Weekly, August 23, 2002.
PR Newswire, October 28, 1999.
R&D Directions, May 2002, p. 66.
Schering-Plough Press Release, March 7, 2002.
Schering-Plough Corporation, www.schering-plough.com (April 16, 2003).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Cecil B. Pickett conducted by Contemporary Black Biography in January of 2003.
—Janet P. Stamatel
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