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Text from the citation read at the 2016 Commencement for the awarding of the Presidential Distinguished Alumni Medal to Dr. Dennis Liotta:
It is difficult to overstate the impact of your achievements. The antiviral drugs that you developed, particularly those used to treat HIV and AIDS, have saved and extended lives, far more than could ever be counted. Emory University—where you are the Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor in the Department of Chemistry, as well as the Executive Director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development—estimates that more than 90 percent of Americans with HIV have taken a drug of your invention.

Dennis LiottaAs one of the leaders of an Emory drug development group, you discovered Emtriva, a component of the combination therapy that is the standard for treating patients with HIV. Thanks to that therapy, what was once seen as a terminal illness can now be treated as a chronic condition, enabling those with HIV or AIDS not just to survive, but to enjoy life.
Your other breakthroughs since graduating from the Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Chemistry have changed the face of modern medicine. You discovered what became the first drug approved for the treatment of hepatitis B. A pharmaceutical company that you founded went on to develop what is now the first-line therapy for treating hepatitis C. And untold advancements emerge from the many other biotech firms you have launched, such as Altiris, which researches potential treatments for various types of cancer; NeurOp, which develops treatments for stroke and depression; Que Oncology, which is developing a drug to treat hot flashes in breast cancer patients and post-menopausal women; and DRIVE, a non-profit drug development company that develops therapies for viral infections, such as Zika virus, dengue fever, and Chikungunya.

In addition to your research, you are known for your generosity and skill as an educator and mentor. You received the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest award bestowed by Emory, and the university’s 175 Emory History Makers Medal. In the course of your teaching career, you have supervised close to 100 post-doctorate and graduate students. You have also dedicated your formidable talents to encouraging scientists in South Africa; the scholar exchange program that you established enables post-doctoral researchers and graduate students to spend a year learning about drug discovery at pharmaceutical companies in the United States and Europe. Through related programs, South African scientists can learn the business and legal skills to start their own pharmaceutical companies.
For advancing the frontiers of science and medicine, the Graduate Center of the City University of New York is proud to present you with the President’s Distinguished Alumni Medal.