McNally is an experimental synthetic chemist whose lab invents new chemical reactions for faster and more efficient synthesis of therapeutic compounds, as well as new drug candidates. He is among 126 early-career researchers to receive the honor, chosen from nearly 1,000 nominees.
Awarded annually since 1995, Sloan fellowships honor scholars in the U.S. and Canada whose “creativity, leadership and independent research achievements make them some of the most promising researchers working today,” according to the foundation.
At CSU, McNally leads a laboratory focused on the unique chemistry of phosphorus compounds to functionalize pyridine and diazine heterocycles, which are central to how many pharmaceutical agents function. However, it is challenging to make the types of derivatives required in drug-discovery campaigns using existing chemical methods.
McNally’s group has developed a suite of new reactions that are being used by medicinal chemistry groups across the country to discover new pharmaceuticals. His group’s flagship project, published in Science in 2018, is a new method to link two pyridine heterocycles together using phosphorus intermediates instead of late-transition metals such as palladium.
With the funds from the Sloan fellowship, his group plans to extend these methods for protein bioconjugation – a way of forming chemical bonds to specific amino acid residues in biomolecules as a means of studying and treating diseases.
McNally, who joined the CSU faculty in 2014, was previously a Marie Curie International Fellow at Princeton University, where he worked on high-throughput screening methods for new chemical reactions. He has an M.A. and M.Sci. in natural sciences, and a Ph.D. in chemistry, all from University of Cambridge.
Among towering figures in science
According to the Sloan Foundation, past Sloan Research Fellows include many towering figures in the history of science, including physicists Richard Feynman and Murray Gell-Mann, and game theorist John Nash. Fifty fellows have received a Nobel Prize in their respective field, 17 have won the Fields Medal in mathematics, 69 have received the National Medal of Science, and 19 have won the John Bates Clark Medal in economics, including every winner since 2007.
Fellows for 2020 were drawn from more than 60 institutions across the U.S. and Canada. Fellowships are open to scholars in eight scientific and technical fields – chemistry, computer science, economics, mathematics, computational and evolutionary molecular biology, neuroscience, ocean sciences, and physics. Sloan Research Fellows are nominated by fellow scientists, and winners are selected by an independent panel of senior scholars. Nearly 1,000 researchers are nominated each year for 126 fellowships.
Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 award, which can be spent to advance the fellow’s research.
At CSU, 16 researchers have received Sloan Fellowships in the last five decades, all within the College of Natural Sciences. Recent winners were Jamie Neilson in 2017 and Amber Krummel in 2015, also both faculty in the Department of Chemistry.