Are scientists artistic? Absolutely! That is definitely the case with Gannon alumnus Mark Nelson, Ph.D., class of 1983. While a student at Gannon in the early 80’s, Nelson was a professional musician playing local gigs. He played drums in rock, country and new wave and in punk bands while adapting and working with a wide variety of people. His musical experiences helped channel a creativity that has taken him quite far in his scientific career as well.
Nelson credits Gannon with providing him creative skills in science and instilling the confidence he needed to pursue a graduate degree. His favorite professors were Dr. Richard Gammon (microbiology), Dr. Francis Pelczar (organic chemistry) and Dr. Carl Hultman (chemistry). He attended Temple University after graduating from Gannon and obtained a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology.
From there, Nelson entered academia at Tufts University in Boston where he invented new antibiotics, which led to the start of his first company, Paratek Pharmaceuticals. His work at Paratek resulted in the discovery of new antibiotics that have recently been approved by the FDA. This October, Nelson and his team of fellow chemists will be awarded the American Chemical Society Heroes of Chemistry award in San Diego at the ACS national meeting. The recently approved drugs are Nuzyra and Seysara, which are used against antibiotic resistant infections, pneumonia and chronic skin diseases. Additionally, Nelson has been involved with more than 40 US patents in the tetracycline family of chemotherapeutics.
Nelson currently resides in Park City, Utah and is the Vice President of Business and Science Development for Frontier Scientific and Subsidiaries. He oversees a team of chemists who develop new science technologies in medicine, animal health, advanced organic materials and consumer chemistry. Currently, his chemistry and biology research is funded by animal health companies, the Department of Defense, and the University of Rochester, School of Medicine. His ongoing work focuses on generating new therapies against animal and agricultural pathogens and neurodegeneration due to blood loss.
In addition to the Heroes of Chemistry Award, Nelson’s accolades are numerous. He is a Fulbright Lectureship Fellow, a Gannon University Distinguished Alumnus (2003) and a member of the ACS Chemistry Society. He also served on the Gannon University Board of Trustees from 2003 to 2006. His hobbies include art collecting (since the age of 17), traveling and exploring, rock and fossil hunting, skiing (he reports this is expected since he lives in Utah), and being an animal rescuer to dogs, cats, birds, horses, ducks and chickens.
Nelson is married to Erie native Janice (Badger) Nelson and they have one daughter, Catherine, who is an Environmental Engineering major in college. Based on his own life experiences, Nelson offers the following advice to others, “Take the high road in classes and in life in general. Stay ethically clean. Take on challenging subjects and professors. And go and CREATE something you feel passionate about, whether it be a career, an item, art, music or a product – no one can take away your creativity. Also to be successful sometimes you just have to go do something, create something and not let anyone get in your way. If they do, go around them. Life is too short not to create.”
(published June 2019)