James Cook, distinguished professor in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has been awarded the Hector F. DeLuca Scientific Achievement Award from BioForward Wisconsin. The award recognizes Cook’s scientific leadership and contributions to the state’s biohealth industry.

James Cook

Cook is a leading expert in GABA-A brain receptor drug targeting and has published more than 550 papers in the fields of natural products, medicinal chemistry and organic synthesis. He is a recipient of the UW System Innovator Award and the UW-Milwaukee Innovator Award, and he has filed over 90 patents.

Cook’s UWM research group created a series of compounds for drug-resistant epilepsy and chronic pain that were licensed to RespireRx Pharmaceuticals. The compounds carry no risk of addiction, tolerance, sedation or impaired coordination in preclinical tests of their use to circumvent the opioid crisis.

His research collaboration at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto has led to licensing compounds that target depression, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease to Damona Pharmaceuticals.

He cofounded four pharmaceutical startups, including Promentis Pharmaceuticals with David Baker at Marquette University. Promentis has a drug in clinical trials for the chronic mental illness trichotillomania (chronic hair-pulling). The compound also is effective for treating anxiety disorder without the side effects of sedation or dependence.

With neurologist Soma Sengupta at the University of Cincinnati, Cook cofounded Amlal Pharmaceuticals, which is testing compounds for glioblastoma (brain tumors), melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer.

At UWM, Cook was a founding member of the Milwaukee Institute for Drug Discovery, which has faculty and student members from the departments of chemistry and biochemistry, psychology, biological sciences and engineering.

“Interacting with various departments, students and over 30 collaborators worldwide have made it much easier to do drug discovery and development at UWM,” Cook said. “The support from the UWM administration and the faculty and staff of the MIDD has been unwavering, even when resources were scarce. This has led to a bright future for MIDD and UWM.”

Cook joined the UWM faculty in 1973 and was promoted to university distinguished professor in 2002.