Dr. Christopher McCurdy Returns to His Graduate Roots at UGA

Groundbreaking researcher. Pharmacologist. Internationally-recognized expert. Mentor. Medicinal chemist. Academic director. Father. Husband. Chef….and UGA College of Pharmacy alumnus.

These are but a few titles and superlatives to describe Dr. Christopher McCurdy, a 1998 PhD graduate from the College’s Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences program. Currently a professor in the Departments of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutics, the Frank A. Duckworth Eminent Scholar Chair, and the Director of the CTSI Translational Drug Development Core at the University of Florida, McCurdy returned to his graduate school alma mater recently to deliver the keynote address for the Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences Convocation Ceremony. Ever the mentor, McCurdy motivated graduating seniors with inspiring advice as they prepared for the next chapter of their career journeys.

During his visit to UGA, McCurdy reflected on the impact that the UGA College of Pharmacy had on his career development. As an undergraduate student at Ohio Northern University, McCurdy was determined to be a retail pharmacist, with no intention of pursuing a graduate degree. Those plans changed, however, after he spent a summer researching at UGA. “While I was an undergraduate pharmacy student in Ohio, I worked for a UGA medicinal chemistry graduate, Dr. Stephen Cutler ’84, ‘89,” he explained. “He suggested I apply to UGA for a summer research experience, and he arranged for me to work with Dr. DeWitt Blanton.”

Later, when he returned to Athens to earn his PhD, McCurdy continued to pursue life-changing opportunities. “I was given the chance to conduct research in a faculty member’s laboratory,” he said. “And I was  encouraged to present my research at national meetings, including the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and the American Chemical Society.”

McCurdy points out two specific CoP faculty members who were major influences during his time in Athens. “If it was not for Dr. Jim Stewart, I most likely would not have pursued graduate school. My wonderful PhD mentor, Dr. Warren Beach, who taught me so much, also drastically impacted my life. Without a doubt, these two professors and mentors shaped me into who I became and instilled the ideals I have carried throughout my career.”

In fact, during his recent visit to Athens for the keynote address, McCurdy gathered with Ella Stewart, the widow of Dr. Jim Stewart (d. 2013); Dr. Beach; Dean Kelly Smith; Lee Snelling; and Morgan Ashcraft, the Dr. James Stewart Graduate Student Award recipient. Commented Snelling, the Senior Director of Development and Alumni Relations, “Though Mrs. Stewart’s husband has passed away, she still stays in touch with many of his former students. If these last two years have taught us anything, it is to take advantage of moments together. That was certainly the case when we all gathered with Dr. McCurdy. We had a wonderful time!” 

More than two decades after his educational and research pursuits at UGA, McCurdy has become renowned in his field. A broadly-trained pharmaceutical scientist and pharmacist, his research focuses on the design, synthesis, and development of drugs to treat pain, anxiety, mental health, and substance abuse. He is an internationally-recognized expert on Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa), a tree from South East Asia that has traditionally been utilized as a means to wean opium addicts. Most notably, Dr. McCurdy has developed a PET/MR imaging diagnostic agent for visualizing the origins of chronic neuropathic pain by interacting with sigma receptors at the site of nerve damage. He has published more than 100 peer-reviewed papers, multiple book chapters, presented numerous invited talks at international meetings, and educated hundreds of pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists. Dr. McCurdy previously served as President of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists and as a consultant to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee. He has received countless awards for his groundbreaking research and collaborations.

Speaking of collaborations, McCurdy is quick to recognize that any success he achieves would not be possible without his colleagues. His research has always been highly collaborative, consulting with universities and organizations throughout the U.S. What truly makes him standout as a scientist and colleague is his team-based approach in which successes and challenges are shared by all. Dr. Jay McLaughlin, a colleague and a collaborator with McCurdy at the University of Florida, remarked, “Chris is that rare talent with expertise in multiple fields. He’s a fantastic medicinal chemist, pharmacist, and pharmacologist. He stands out for his accomplishments in any one of these disciplines, but combined, they establish him as a remarkable, visionary scientist. Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s also an outstanding chef! He is a true, modern renaissance man.”

In addition to his countless professional accomplishments, McCurdy has served as a mentor to many students and junior scientists through the years.. “I think his genuine compassion for patients and his interest in mentoring junior faculty are his greatest attributes,” said Dr. Jaime Bastian, a former student and mentee of McCurdy’s, who currently serves as Senior Medical Science Liaison at CSL Behring.

Dr. McCurdy, once a PharmDawg, always a PharmDawg.  You’ll always be home at the UGA College of Pharmacy!