Pierce Kavanagh

Organic Chemists:  A Help or Hindrance to Forensic Drug Chemists?

Dr. Pierce Kavanagh

Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Medicine, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland


Biographical sketch
I graduated from the University of Dublin, Trinity College, with a B.A. (Mod.) in chemistry (1st. class, gold medalist, Cocker medalist, 1989) and then with a Ph.D. (synthetic organic chemistry, 1993, Syntheses of Detomidine/Medetomidine Metabolites and Novel Photochemically Active Cyclopentenone Derivatives). After a postdoctoral position at Queen’s University Belfast, I commenced employment with Trinity College Dublin in 1993, firstly with the Equine Forensic Unit (a drugs testing laboratory) and then with the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (School of Medicine).

My role within the department involves teaching, supervision of postgraduate students, independent research and day-to-day management of the laboratories. Over the past six years, through extensive collaboration with a number of institutions around the world, including official forensic laboratories, our research portfolio on the identification and syntheses of new psychoactive substances (NPS) has developed and expanded immensely, resulting in approximately fifty peer-reviewed publications. The research group is primarily organic synthesis based and two PhD candidates are currently engaged on the work. The philosophy of the research program is to share knowledge (e.g. analytical data), interpret data from partners to elucidate the structures of unknowns and provide reference standards. Initially, research was concentrated on the characterization of products sold by Head Shops in Ireland that resulted in the publication of several Head Shop product identification charts. However, with the introduction of legislative controls, our interests turned more towards the ‘organic chemistry’ aspect of NPS, with a particular focus on the syntheses and chromatographic separation of positional isomers. More recently, we have specialized in impurity/by-product profiling to elucidate drug synthesis pathways and identify route indicative/specific molecular markers. As our NPS synthesis program has generated numerous compounds, we have found an opportunity to have a number of them evaluated for pharmacological activities, an area which we hope to develop further in the future. We also have an interest in NPS metabolism and the syntheses of ‘difficult to source’ drug metabolites for pharmacokinetics studies. I am a member of Ireland’s Early Warning and Emerging Trends (EWET) group (National Advisory Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, NACDA). I have acted as an advisor to Ireland’s Department of Health on the formulation of drugs legislation and, on behalf of Ireland’s Health Research Board (HRB), as a representative to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).