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Alumni and Friends Making an Impact

Another Positive Reaction

A good education, perseverance, humor and a healthy dose of imagination go a long way in creating your own luck — or the multibillion-dollar medication Claritin. That’s according to Charlie Magatti ’71, co-inventor of the famous allergy treatment.

In November 2022, Charlie came to campus with his wife, Anita, and he gave a special guest lecture to UD chemistry students, walking them through his creation of Claritin. Known generically as loratadine, it is on the World Health Organization’s Model List of Essential Medicines for the most effective, safe and cost-effective medicine for priority conditions. 

Charlie invented the drug in 1976 while working for Schering-Plough, which is estimated to have earned $15 billion from sales of the antihistamine between 1993 and 2002, when its patent was active in the United States. The company honored him with a Presidential Award and $3,000 when the drug was approved by the FDA.

If that sounds like a pretty small congratulations for such a success, Charlie would assure you that this was standard practice. He didn’t get into organic chemistry for the money; he chose it because he loved the work.

And he wants UD students to get real experience doing organic chemistry research — the work — as undergraduates.

“I hope organic chemistry students get to do exactly what I showed in my lecture,” said Charlie about the synthesis of the compounds that created Claritin. “Undergraduate students aren’t really exposed to too much in the laboratory. The experiments they usually get to do are already worked out. But 99% of the time when you’re working to create something new, the chemistry doesn’t work. Out of 100 compounds, you’ll be lucky if one of them shows any activity.”

The Magattis want UD chemistry students to gain true lab experience under the guidance of a professor, and that’s one of the reasons they established the Charles and Anita Magatti Chemistry Research Award at the University of Dayton in 2012. They endowed the award in 2022, and it supports Department of Chemistry students conducting summer research projects, with preference for projects related to organic or medicinal chemistry.

Both Charlie and Anita majored in chemistry as undergraduates. Charlie went on to earn his doctorate in chemistry, while Anita earned her Juris Doctor and practiced patent law. “She’s the money-maker,” said Charlie with a wink as he explained that they both worked at Schering-Plough, but he worked for the “expense centers” while she worked for the “profits center.”

Anita added that “inventing Claritin is something that not just anyone can do.” She explained how organic chemistry, which many say is the hardest course on most campuses, is what separates the chemistry majors from the rest of the student body. She shared that Charlie’s knowledge of the subject allowed him to introduce and teach organic chemistry in high school, which is rare because of its complexity. “As far as I know,” said Anita, “he was the first person in New Jersey to teach organic chemistry in high school.”

After 26 years of developing pharmaceuticals, Charlie became a high school teacher in New Jersey, sharing his experience and knowledge with budding scientists. He retired from teaching four years ago. He’s also a longtime volunteer firefighter — serving twice as chief and still an active volunteer — for his local community. Teaching and serving are ways that he loves to give back, especially to students.

“Kids need to be turned on to science early — in high school, not college,” said Charlie, who credits a high school teacher for developing his love for chemistry. He pointed out that “you don’t want to kill them with too much chemistry. Turn them on to science so they’ll want to go on and major in science.” And it’s worked — several of his high school students have gone on to earn their own doctorates in chemistry.

The Magattis are both hopeful that the Charles and Anita Magatti Chemistry Research Award will help UD students develop their own passion for organic chemistry and go on to create their own additions to the world through the work and exploration that Charlie found he loved so much — and, even for the inventor of Claritin, that’s definitely nothing to sneeze at.

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