25 Faces 25 Years: Cynthia Maryanoff
By Amy Weaver
May 29, 2017
What inspired your interest in chemistry?
My first organic chemistry course at Drexel — it was mind blowing to me. Writing down structures of molecules and getting them to follow rules of reactivity, planning syntheses — it was fantastic!
I was raised in a small farming community with little exposure to science, except from my mom, who was a nurse. Marie Curie’s story was compelling, so I knew I had to go to a city. Drexel’s co-op program, which guaranteed all students — even females at the time — would be placed in science positions, was the key for me.
What was Drexel like in the ’70s?
Chemistry had just moved into Disque Hall. Two new professors joined the department — Robert Owen Hutchins and Franklin Davis — and stirred up excitement. I met my husband, fellow chemistry alum Bruce Maryanoff, in Professor Hutchin’s lab. Bruce was doing graduate work and I was doing undergraduate research. The three of us were like the Three Musketeers, working long hours and weekends together. I had 13 publications from my undergraduate research — and Bruce and I were married in 1971!
Tell us more about your co-op positions.
My first co-op was an analytical position at Atlas Chemical in Wilmington, Delaware. Second co-op was in the Environmental Engineering department at Drexel: we studied the Philadelphia estuary to determine if it was getting cleaner (it was) and studied run-off from artificial lysimeters set up near landfills to characterize trash decay, its impact on the land, and how far possible pollutants, like heavy metals, could migrate. Both of these positions set me up for introducing green chemical processes to Johnson & Johnson. My third co-op was a National Science Foundation fellowship in Professor Hutchin’s lab to conduct basic research. All three positions formed an excellent platform for my future endeavors.
What led you to Johnson & Johnson?
My parents were role models for contributing to the community in which they lived, always volunteering. I wanted to make contributions as well, and focused on health care. By the time I completed my PhD and postdoc at Princeton, my husband was a happy medicinal chemist. I tried medicinal chemistry as a career at SmithKline & French for a little over four years, but the magnitude of variation in biological studies was too much for me. I joined J&J as a process chemist designing routes to scale up chemical syntheses for molecules to be tested as possible new medications. Chemical reactions have to be reproducible, with a variation of only +/- .5 percent, rather than +/-300 percent. I loved that! As I expanded my horizons, I went on to leading analytical and formulation chemistry, making sure our medicines were pure and bioavailable, and that our clinical supplies were safe for human use — all reproducibly! I later became Head of Chemical Development, U.S., for Johnson & Johnson and began interfacing more with our partners around the world.
What were your proudest accomplishments from your time at Johnson & Johnson?
My proudest accomplishment was developing a smooth-running group of people who all cared about getting new medications to patients. The scientists in my groups were fantastic and worked with extreme dedication. I moved to the medical device sector and was able to make very complicated presentations to the Food and Drug Administration that my management and FDA scientists all understood. That was satisfying because it moved products along to patients.
We heard you now own a coffee farm in Hawaii? Tell us more!
We now own two coffee farms but we won’t have our own beans until 2017. My husband and I love coffee. Together we grew more and more sophisticated in our taste. We had a supplier from Kona, Hawaii since 2002 and became addicted to his coffee. However, he and his wife retired. Knowing how hard it is to keep a quality like his — coffee with varying layers of tastes and aromas as you enjoy a single cup — we tried to buy his farm. While that didn’t work out, we did eventually buy two different farms and are really getting into growing quality Kona coffee. I cannot drink caffeine anymore, so we are developing a method to decaffeinate without removing that signature flavor. The beauty of Hawaii makes you forget how much hard work it is. It’s all chemical processing, after all!
What lessons have you learned and carried with you?
In God we trust; all others bring data. Always ask questions and make your team comfortable about having their data discussed openly. Having “yes men” report to you does not move projects forward. Never be afraid to nurture a future Nobel Laureate; by supporting the best and the brightest and holding them accountable, everyone moves forward. Enjoy every minute because all you can be sure of is change!
This article originally appeared in the College of Arts and Sciences' Ask magazine feature story, "25 Faces, 25 Years." For more Ask stories, visit askmagazine.org.