Gordon Cragg obtained his undergraduate training in chemistry at Rhodes University, South Africa, and his PhD (organic chemistry) from Oxford University in 1963. After two years of postdoctoral research at the University of California, Los Angeles, he returned to S. Africa to join the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1966, he joined Chemistry Department at the University of South Africa, and transferred to the University of Cape Town in 1972. In 1979, he returned to the US to join the Cancer Research Institute at Arizona State University. In 1985, he moved to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, and was appointed Chief of the Natural Products Branch in 1989. He retired in December, 2004, and is currently serving as an NIH Special Volunteer. His major interests lie in the discovery of novel natural product agents for the treatment of cancer and AIDS. He has given over 100 invited talks at conferences in many countries worldwide, and has been awarded NIH Merit Awards for his contributions to the development of taxol (1991), leadership in establishing international collaborative research in biodiversity and natural products drug discovery (2004), and contributions to developing and teaching NIH technology transfer courses (2004). In 1998-1999 he was President of the American Society of Pharmacognosy, and was elected to Honorary Membership in 2003. He has established collaborations between the NCI and organizations in many countries promoting drug discovery from their natural resources. He has published over 140 papers related to these interests.
In addition to Dr. Cragg's tremendously productive career as a cancer researcher, he has also made great contributions to biodiversity conservation. Dr. Cragg has been a tireless advocate for conservation of natural resources, which he sees as a repository of chemical diversity and thus a vitally important resource upon which humankind relies for the future of its health care.
Through the Natural Products Branch, Dr. Cragg played a key role in the development of the Letter of Intent, later Letter of Collection, which is the boiler plate agreement ensuring equitable benefit sharing with countries that provide the source material for drug discovery. This approach fully anticipated the Convention on Biological Diversity by three years and has been used as the primary model for such agreements in all subsequent discovery programs.
Gordon Cragg's advocacy for natural products has been legendary. Through dozens of publications, many written with NCI colleagues David Newman and Ken Snader, Dr. Cragg has documented the role of natural products in drug discovery. His influence throughout NIH was one of the factors leading to several other programs focused on natural products, including the NCDDGs, the National Cooperative Drug Discovery Groups.
One such program, the International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups, or ICBG, is particularly noteworthy. Directed by Drs. Josh Rosenthal and Flora Katz of the Fogarty International Center, and co-funded by NIH, NSF, and USDA, this program has been designed to support natural products discovery in pharmaceutical and agricultural areas but to do so in biodiverse tropical countries in a manner that supports both conservation and economic development. The kinds of commitments that Gordon Cragg helped foster at NCI had a profound influence on the aim of the ICBG program to conduct research in a manner that has truly benefited the countries where the projects have been conducted.