Waleed Ohan Danho

It is with great sadness that we convey the news that Dr. Waleed Ohan Danho passed away on Aug 28, 2023 in Del Mar, California. He was 82 years of age. His loss will be deeply felt by his family, friends and the peptide community at large.

Waleed was a unique and unforgettable individual. He was an exceptional peptide chemist and he had immense belief in the power and potential of peptide therapeutics for providing life-changing medical treatments. His irrepressible personality, passion and advocacy for peptide science, generosity in sharing his vast knowledge, and his no-nonsense style drew and endeared him to people he met. A true champion of the field, it was always clear to those who knew him that he expected high standards from his scientific colleagues. He enjoyed the give-and-take of discussions, was honest in sharing his opinions and scientific advice and reveled in advances in his research field.

Waleed’s career traces the development arc of the peptide field. His long-time friend Richard DiMarchi notes that with “Waleed’s passing we lose one in a lessening society of scientists that personally experienced the challenge in making these macromolecules before automated synthesis, HPLC, mass spectroscopy and the diversity of chemical reagents that are now commercially accessible.” Following his undergraduate training in Iraq, he obtained his Ph.D. in 1967 at the University of Aachen, Aachen, Germany in the laboratories of Professor Dr. mult. Zahn. There, he developed a new synthesis of the A-chain of insulin leading to the first crystalline semi-synthetic insulin. He was awarded Aachen’s Wilhelm Borches Medal, 1968, for this Ph.D. work. His post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco, with Professor Choh Hao Li was on the synthesis of human growth hormone. Iraq beckoned and he joined the University of Baghdad, College of Medicine as an assistant professor of Biochemistry. His research led to the critical discovery that lipotropin is a pro-hormone of endorphin. In 1976 he returned to the University of Aachen to spearhead the preparation of a 45-amino acid fragment of pro-insulin that represented the largest fragment synthesized at that time by solution phase peptide synthesis. His research group went on to conduct and document SAR studies for insulin in an attempt to discover the pharmacological core.

In 1980, Waleed joined Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. as a Research Group Chief in the Chemical Research Department, rising to Distinguished Research Leader over a 31-year span. His career thrived in industry. He worked on most every therapeutic class of peptides, including the GLP-1, GIP, PYY, glucagon, melanocortin, MC4-R, and CCK families, and as well dual GPCR agonists and novel protein mimetics. In addition, his studies led to the discovery of small molecule antagonists of IL-2 and the IL-2 receptor. A number of peptide drug candidates were advanced for clinical studies. His output was a large body of publications and patents during this highly productive period. This is a testament to Waleed’s tenacity and abiding commitment to peptides, despite a then industry bias for small molecule drug development. He was very active in various peptide societies and was a “charter” member of the American Peptide Society. He presented and chaired sections of the American, European and International Peptide Symposia. In 2009, he was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the North Jersey section of the ACS, and he received the awarded the Meienhofer Award at 2009 Roche Colorado Corporation Peptide Symposium.

He retired to live in Del Mar, California, and maintained an open house where visitors were greeted with a big welcome from him and his devoted canine companion Buddy. He continued to be actively engaged in research, serving as a scientific advisor to Pharma and biotech companies. He generously gave his time, financial support and advice to the Boulder Peptide Symposium, American Peptide Society and the Peptide Therapeutics Foundation. He rarely missed a meeting and never failed to ask challenging scientific questions at the peptide symposia run by these organizations. Above all, he mentored young scientists and instituted the Danho Young Investigator Award at the Boulder Symposium to support the careers of promising academic researchers in the peptide field. Implicit in his rich legacy is the expectation that others would follow his path to advance the peptide field to new frontiers.

Waleed leaves behind his brothers Amad and Isam Danho, his dog Buddy, and countless well-wishers who were fortunate to know him over the years.

This tribute was written by Dr. Soumitra Ghosh

Waleed Ohan Danho