Dennis Liotta, PhD



Dr. Liotta is one of the leaders of the Emory research team that discovered the antiviral drug, Emtriva (emtricitabine), which was approved for treating HIV in July 2003.

Titles and Roles

Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor, Department of Chemistry
Emory University
Professor, Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology
Emory University School of Medicine
Chair, Advisory Committee of DRug Innovation Ventures at Emory and Emory Institute for Drug Development
Emory University
Research Program
Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics


Dr. Liotta joined Emory University in 1976. He currently holds the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professorship. He served as the Chair of the Chemistry Department from 1993 to 1996 and Emory’s Vice President for Research from 1996 to 2000. He also served as the Associate Director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research for over a decade and is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the National Cancer Institute-Chemical Biology Consortium at Emory. In 2011, he was honored with the Thomas Jefferson Award, Emory University’s highest service award.

Dr. Liotta is recognized as one of the premier discoverers of novel therapeutics in the United States. To date, he has authored more than 300 peer-reviewed publications. He also holds inventorship to over 100 issued patents in the U.S. alone and has more than 20 patent families currently under prosecution. His innovations have resulted in at least 18 life-saving FDA-approved antiviral therapeutics. He is the recipient of the 2022 Perkin Medal, generally considered to be the highest award for achievements in applied chemistry. He was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2014 and the Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame in 2010.

Dr. Liotta catalyzed more than 30 license agreements between Emory University and various commercialization partners, including at least 25 exclusive license agreements and seven non-exclusive license agreements. As a serial entrepreneur, Liotta founded or co-founded more than 10 biopharmaceutical companies. These businesses fostered economic growth, created numerous jobs in the biotechnology sector and brought multiple drugs to the marketplace. One prominent example among these companies is Pharmasset, which he co-founded with Dr. Raymond Schinazi. Pharmasset, which was acquired by Gilead Sciences for $11.2B, developed sofosbuvir, a blockbuster, curative hepatitis C medicine.

Dr. Liotta is dedicated to innovating new approaches to drug development in academia and fueling Emory’s reputation as a drug discovery powerhouse. He, together with fellow drug developer, Dr. George Painter, formulated the DRIVE model to provide critical infrastructure in the developmental continuum for new therapeutics. He implemented resources to create a pair of complementary Emory entities, EIDD (Emory Institute for Drug Development) and DRIVE (Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory). EIDD serves as an engine for early-stage research and development. DRIVE acts as a commercialization partner to advance drug candidates to subsequent value inflection points. Without shareholders or investors, EIDD and DRIVE strive to address the most critical unmet medical needs rather than pursue markets with the highest profit margins. Their focus on developing therapeutics for commercially neglected diseases unexpectedly provided a pivotal solution to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Molnupiravir, a drug discovered and developed by EIDD and DRIVE for addressing RNA virus infections, became the first drug to receive Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for treating SARS-CoV-2 infections.


Dr. Liotta earned his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the City University of New York in 1974. Following this, he completed his postdoctoral research at The Ohio State University.


Dr. Liotta has helped transform HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a chronic infection in which patients can live active and productive lives. The Emory University Office of Technology Transfer estimates that about 95% of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., and many around the world, take or have taken one of the drugs co-invented by Dr. Liotta. He is most noted for his invention of emtricitabine and lamivudine, along with Drs. Raymond Schinazi and Woo-Baeg Choi. These two drugs are widely used as crucial components of anti-HIV combination therapies. They played instrumental roles in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. and curbing the spread of HIV in other regions of the world. Emtricitabine, marketed under the name Emtriva, made possible the first-ever combination therapy for HIV/AIDS as a once-daily pill. It is a component of many combination therapies used to treat HIV/AIDS. Lamivudine, marketed under the name Epivir, is also a component of multiple combination therapies. Additionally, lamivudine became the first drug approved by the FDA to treat hepatitis B infections. Both emtricitabine and lamivudine are on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

In addition to antiviral therapeutics, Dr. Liotta has also made important contributions to other therapeutic fronts, such as oncology and neurological diseases. He co-discovered samuraciclib (formerly CT7001), a CDK7 inhibitor for treating hard-to-treat cancers. Samuraciclib is in Phase 2 clinical trials and has been fast-tracked by the FDA for use in two combination therapies to treat certain breast cancers. He also developed Q-122, an oral drug for controlling hot flashes in postmenopausal women, which has completed a Phase 2 clinical trial. In addition, his collaboration with Dr. Stephen Traynelis in Emory’s Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology led to the discovery of NP-10679. NP-10679 successfully wrapped up its Phase 1 clinical trial and has received Orphan Drug designation from the FDA for treating subarachnoid hemorrhage or bleeding in the space around the brain.


Dr. Liotta has authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications, cited by scientists around the globe tens of thousands of times. He is the founding Editor-in-Chief of ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters (ACS MCL), which was launched in 2010 to provide a rapid communication venue for high-quality letters and technology notes in medicinal chemistry and related fields. Under his leadership, ACS MCL has become one of the preeminent journals for disseminating innovative medicinal chemistry reports.

  • PublicationsPublication Date


Dr. Liotta has received the following awards and honors:

Innovation, Inventorship, and Entrepreneurship

  • Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry America, 2022
  • Wallace H. Carothers Award, Delaware Section of the American Chemistry Society, 2018
  • Licensing Deal of the Year, Emory University Office of Technology Transfer, Atlanta, GA, 2014 and 2015
  • Georgia Bio Shark Tank Winner, Georgia Bio, 2014
  • Fellow, National Academy of Inventors, 2013
  • Intellectual Property Legends Award, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, 2012
  • Significant Event of the Year (the acquisition of Pharmasset Inc. by Gilead Sciences), Emory University Office of Technology Transfer, Atlanta, GA, 2012

Scientific/Professional Achievements and Recognitions

  • Fellow, Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, 2014present
  • Fellow, American Chemical Society, 2010present
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2003present
  • Alfred Burger Award in Medicinal Chemistry, American Chemical Society, 2018
  • Bristol-Myers Squibb Smissman Award, American Chemistry Society, 2015
  • Antonín Holý Memorial Award, International Society for Antiviral Research, 2015
  • 175 Emory History Makers Medal, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 2012
  • Thomas Jefferson Award (Emory University’s highest service award), Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 2011
  • Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame, American Chemistry Society, 2010

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