Tony Zhang

Tony Zhang

"The location of the Purdue campus provided everything I needed and very few distractions. If college education has provided me with the basic foundation for acquiring knowledge, then graduate studies at Purdue has prepared me well for either becoming an expert in a new field quickly or accessing one."


Few can say they were mentored by a renowned international scientist who went on to win the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Few can also say they used that experience and coveted opportunity to become a premier scientist in their own right, engineering the success of an innovative research and development network in China at global pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly & Co. Meet Tony Zhang. After a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Shandong University, he won a doctoral CGP Fellowship from Purdue in 1983 to learn from Professor Ei-ichi Negishi. Professor Negishi would win the 2010 Nobel Prize in chemistry for developing metal-based reactions called palladium-catalyzed cross-coupling, which allow for easy and efficient synthesis of complex organic compounds. In 1988, Zhang was in the Purdue laboratory when Negishi discovered palladium-catalyzed cyclization involving alkynes, which opened a new research field. "Sitting in the lecture from a Purdue professor who actually discovered things that I had only read in textbook before was a wonderful experience," he says. After a short stint as a research scientist at Reilly Inc. (now Vertellus), Zhang joined Lilly in 1992, leading its multidisciplinary teams engaged in drug development. In 1996, while developing the manufacturing process for Lilly's osteoporosis drug Evista, he discoered a new reaction for the synthesis of benzothiophenes. Today, Zhang is recognized as a premier molecule builder with patents, published research papers and extensive lecturing in synthetic chemistry, pharmaceutical process development and R&D efficiencies. "I came to Purdue with a ferocious appetite for anything that was not available in 1980-era China. The freedom to pursue anything of interest was at its pinnacle."


  • BS '82, Chemistry, Shandong University, China
  • PhD '89, Chemistry, Purdue University

Career Highlights:

  • 1989-92 Research scientist, Reilly Industries Inc., Indianapolis
  • 1992-95 Senior Organic Chemist, Eli Lilly & Co.
  • 2004 Creating the Future Award by Lilly
  • 2000-03 Appointed Senior Research Scientist
  • 2006 Chairman's Ovation Award (highest award at Lilly) cited for contribution to R&D productivity
  • 2008-11 Managing Director and Site Head, Eli Lilly Global R&D, China
  • 2011 Named Vice President, Global External R&D, Asia

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