Jonathan Sessler Named 2016 Inventor of the Year

Jonathan Sessler, University of Texas at Austin
Photo by Marsha Miller

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. Jonathan Sessler, the Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin College of Natural Sciences, has been named the 2016 UT Inventor of the Year for work that has added to the basic scientific understanding of pharmaceuticals and helped form a commercially successful business in that field.

The Inventor of the Year award is given by UT Austin's Office of Technology Commercialization to recognize faculty members who excel in their fields and whose work produces practicable innovations and life-changing discoveries. Business and technology leaders from across the Austin area joined with UT Austin faculty members to honor him at the sixth annual Inventor of the Year Award Ceremony & Reception on Wednesday, Nov. 9. The program also named Dr. Hal Alper as the 2016 Emerging Inventor of the Year and recognized UT Austin inventors who were issued patents during the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Sessler's work has included a relentless pursuit of new cancer drugs that began after he was diagnosis of lymphoma, or blood cancer, while he was a senior in college. Sessler was treated by then-Stanford University physician Dr. Richard A. Miller, who gave him an challenge that would characterize Sessler's career: "You're a chemist. Find new cancer drugs." 

Sessler and Miller would eventually collaborate and prove to be extremely adept at bringing basic research to fruition, establishing the biotech firm Pharmacyclics, which would go on to be sold for $21 billion in 2015.

The firm was created to make the most of Sessler's discovery of a new class of molecules called texaphyrins (for their origins at UT Austin) and developed Ibrutinib, a powerful cancer treatment for leukemias and lymphomas. The company’s lead anti-cancer compound is ibrutinib, a powerful treatment for leukemia and lymphoma. Pharmacyclics, purchased by AbbVie in 2015, became one of the greatest commercial successes from UT.

The inventor of more than 75 issued or allowed U.S. patents, Sessler has been featured in numerous national and international media reports, most recently in 2015 when Pharmacyclics was sold. Sessler is the winner of many research and teaching awards, and he is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Inventors.

Sessler received his B.S. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Stanford University.