The son of husband-and-wife chemists, Martin received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago and then, before the age of 30, invented a drug that proved helpful in ameliorating certain HIV symptoms. He has received the prestigious Isbell Award from the American Chemical Society and in 2008 was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering. In an interview in his Spartan corner office at Gilead’s headquarters south of San Francisco, the media-averse Martin slouches, swallows his words, and rubs his head until his brown hair resembles a well-trafficked bird’s nest.
He gets up from the conference table to retrieve a visual aid: Several chapters in Nucleotide Analogues as Antiviral Agents, a 1989 collection he edited, describe research that has since contributed to FDA-approved drugs. Picking up a green marker and moving to a whiteboard, Martin, 64, seems to relax. He sketches the intricate molecular structure of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate. Useful for treating HIV, he explains, this “reverse transcriptase inhibitor” put Gilead on the map in 2001. Using the drug’s trade name, he adds: “That’s Viread!”Of all the Big Pharma chemist CEOs, somehow I'm not surprised that Martin can still draw structures. Think John Lechleiter can do the same?