San Marcos

CSUSM Alumnus Published in Prestigious Journal for Student Work That Could Lead to Advances in Pharmaceutical Industry



​For former CSU San Marcos student Omar Apolinar, having his work published in a distinguished academic journal not only helped him forge a path to graduate school, but the study has the potential for advances in the pharmaceutical industry. Apolinar, who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biochemistry in 2019, is now in his second year of a doctoral program at Scripps Research in La Jolla. He has been published in the scientific journal Angewandte Chemie.

Apolinar’s co-written research paper, “Catalytic, Enantioselective -Alkylation of Azlactones With Non-Conjugated Alkenes via Directed Nucleopalladation,” reflected work completed as an undergraduate in the Engle Lab at Scripps Research through its Summer Undergraduate Research Fellows (SURF) initiative. The paper details a process utilizing palladium and chiral phosphoric acids to manipulate a simple compound into something far more complex in just one step. The discovery could lead to advancements in lifesaving pharmaceuticals.

Angewandte Chemie is a peer-reviewed journal of the German Chemical Society, and it has been published under different names since the late 19th century. Apolinar’s paper appeared in the journal’s February 2019 international edition.

“This is one of the higher-echelon peer-reviewed journals for organic chemistry published today,” said CSUSM chemistry professor Robert Iafe. “Even for a graduate student, this would be an amazing feat. Only the most highly driven undergraduate could accomplish something like this.” 

Apolinar said the experience was beyond inspirational. 

“I never would have imagined that I could ever have had a research paper published in a journal such as this,” Apolinar said. “It’s amazing to realize that I have contributed to the chemistry literature. It’s something that can never be taken away, and it motivates me to want to publish more original work that can lead to other discoveries.”

He should have plenty of opportunity. Apolinar is currently a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellow at Scripps Research. His goal is to become a process chemist in the pharmaceutical industry, breaking new ground in developing lifesaving drugs. In the summer of 2019, he spent 10 weeks interning with Janssen Research & Development’s Discovery Process Chemistry Group, also in La Jolla.

Apolinar built a legacy as an undergraduate at CSUSM after graduating from San Marcos High School. He was selected as a California State University Program for Education and Research in Biotechnology (CSUPERB) Presidents’ Commission Scholar in 2017. The program is aimed at increasing the number of undergraduate students who can access a full-time research experience, and it supports up to 11 CSU undergraduates each summer. He worked as an undergraduate research assistant in Dr. Iafe’s laboratory his junior year. He was STEM Peer Educator at the CSUSM STEM Student Success Center. And he was chosen to take part in the first cohort of the TRIO McNair Scholar program, which is dedicated to boosting the number of low-income and first-generation college students who earn graduate degrees.