Derek Tan, PhD

Member and Lab Head

Derek Tan researches chemistry and chemical biology at MSKCC

Lab Phone

646-888-2234 (office)

Lab Fax

646-422-0416 (shared)


Derek Tan
Member, 2012–present
Tri-Institutional Professor, 2013–present

Director, Tri-Institutional PhD Program in Chemical Biology, 2012–present

Associate Member, 2008–2012
Tri-Institutional Associate Professor, 2008–2013

Assistant Member, 2002–2008
Tri-Institutional Assistant Professor, 2003–2008

PhD, Harvard University, 2000
BS, Stanford University, 1995

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, 2007–2009
James D. Watson Investigator, 2005–2007
Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow, 2000–2002

Derek’s talk at the National Academy of Sciences U.S. Kavli Frontiers of Science Symposium on Nov 12, 2009 is available online. This 30-minute Flash presentation gives an overview of our research for a general scientific audience.

ProgramAbstract (PDF)VideoVimeo Mirror ]


Derek S. Tan was born and raised in Rochester, New York. His parents, both chemists at Eastman Kodak, encouraged him not to go into chemistry, and so he became a chemist. He received his B.S. in Chemistry from Stanford University in 1995, working with Prof. Dale G. Drueckhammer on the dynamic enzymatic resolution of thioesters. He then went onto graduate studies with Prof. Stuart L. Schreiber at Harvard University, carrying out early research in the field of diversity-oriented synthesis. His work included the synthesis of a combinatorial library of over two million polycyclic small molecules derived from shikimic acid. After receiving his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2000, he joined the laboratory of Prof. Samuel J. Danishefsky at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where he studied natural products total synthesis and helped complete the first total synthesis of a novel terpenoid antibiotic, guanacastepene A.

He began his independent career in 2002 as an Assistant Member in the Molecular Pharmacology & Chemistry Program at MSKCC in 2002 and as a Tri-Institutional Assistant Professor at the Rockefeller University and Cornell University (Weill Medical College and Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology) in 2003. He was promoted to Tri-Institutional Associate Professor and Associate Member in 2008, and to Member with tenure in 2012 and Tri-Institutional Professor in 2013. His current research interests in chemical biology include the use of diversity-oriented synthesis and rational drug design to identify new small molecule probes for a variety of biological targets with potential therapeutic applications in cancer and infectious diseases. His laboratory leverages forefront methodologies in organic synthesis and multidisciplinary collaborations with biologists.

News Articles

Trojan horse tuberculosis treatment
Chemistry World
The emergence of drug resistant bacterial strains has led to an urgent need for new antibiotic agents. Prof. Marvin Miller’s group is utilising the iron uptake pathway of Mycobacterium tuberculosis as a ‘Trojan horse’ approach to tuberculosis treatment. [Full text]

Working at the Hospital: Challenging and rewarding careers in chemistry await at research hospitals and medical centers
Chemical & Engineering News
For many chemists, the traditional career path begins with a job in industry or a position leading to a tenure-track spot in an academic department. But synthetic, medicinal, and organic chemists are increasingly carving out rewarding careers at research hospitals and medical centers. [Full text]

An Interview with Derek Tan
MSKCC Center News
To understand biology, scientists often use the power of chemistry. As the head of a laboratory in the Molecular Pharmacology and Chemistry Program at the Sloan Kettering Institute, Derek Tan is a young leader in the field of chemical biology. [Full text]

Chemical Biology Initiative Symposium 2006: Frontiers of Drug Discovery: Chemical Library Development and Screening
University of Minnesota
The ability to design chemical probes capable of modulating and altering biological processes in highly defined ways is essential to carrying out modern biomedical and pharmaceutical research. The aim of this workshop was to inform biomedical, pharmacological, medicinal, computational and chemical researchers at the University of Minnesota of recent advances in chemical library design and screening with the goal of fostering multidisciplinary research projects harnessing these techniques. [Program]

Governor, Majority Leader and Speaker Announce $2 Million in Biotech Research Awards: Targeted funding will help attract, retain promising early career scientists
Governor George E. Pataki, Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced $2 million in [James D. Watson Investigator Program] awards designed to recognize and support outstanding scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show potential for leadership and scientific discovery in the field of biotechnology. [Full text (PDF) | Excerpt | Awardees]

NIH Initiatives Target Chemistry: New road-map-related initiatives show agency values role of chemistry in biomedical research
Chemical & Engineering News
Graduate student Shiying Shang and postdoctoral fellow Jae-Sang Ryu work on developing diversity-oriented syntheses of libraries in the lab of Tan—work that fits nicely into a new road-map-related initiative. [Full text (membership req’d) | Full text]

Rescuing CombiChem: Diversity-oriented synthesis aims to pick up where traditional combinatorial chemistry left off
Chemical & Engineering News
What distinguishes DOS from traditional combichem? For one thing, DOS libraries typically consist of tens to hundreds of compounds, versus the tens of thousands to millions of compounds produced in many traditional combinatorial syntheses. Also, most DOS compounds have cyclic architectures and resemble natural products-which are often designed by nature to be biologically active from the start-whereas compounds generated by traditional combichem weren’t necessarily that complex. [Full text]

Tireless Hunter of Cures and Kids
New York Post
Derek Tan, a 31-year-old organic chemist who has been part of the campaign to help missing children since he was a teenager, lives by a simple formula. “It comes back to trying to address people issues,” said Tan, who heads a research lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and also serves as an advisory board member to the Manhattan office of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. [Excerpt | Full text ]

James Engstrom and Derek Tan are Named Members of the Field of Chemistry
Cornell Chemistry and Chemical Biology Newsletter
The department is pleased to announce the addition of James R.Engstrom and Derek S. Tan to the graduate field of chemistry. [Full text ]

Access is uppermost for research collaborators in Tri-Institutional program
Cornell Chronicle
For biomedical educators who have joined the Tri-Institutional Research Program (TIRP), it’s all about access — access to the technological resources, to potential scientific collaborators and to the top-tier students they need to do their very best work.