Peter B. Dervan received his early education in Boston, Massachusetts (B.S., Boston College, 1967). He began research in physical organic chemistry working with Jerome A. Berson at Yale University. After earning his Ph.D degree in 1972, he spent a year at Stanford University as an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow (1973). From Stanford he went to Pasadena to take up a faculty appointment at the California Institute of Technology where he is now the Bren Professor of Chemistry in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.
Peter Dervan has created a new field of bioorganic chemistry with studies directed toward understanding the chemical principles for the sequence specific recognition of the genetic material, DNA. Dervan has combined the art of synthesis, physical chemistry, and biology to create novel synthetic molecules with affinities and sequence specificities comparable to Nature's proteins for any predetermined DNA sequence. This biomimetic approach to DNA recognition underpins the design of cell-permeable molecules for the regulation of gene expression in vivo. The approach could have profound implications for human medicine.
Dervan is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and a Foreign Member of the French Academy of Sciences and the German National Academy of Sciences. His awards include the Harrison Howe Award (1988), Arthur C. Cope Award (1993), Willard Gibbs Medal (1993), Nichols Medal (1994), Maison de la Chimie Foundation Prize (1996), Remsen Award (1998), Kirkwood Medal (1998), Alfred Bader Award (1999), Max Tishler Prize (1999), Linus Pauling Medal (1999), Richard C. Tolman Medal (1999), Tetrahedron Prize (2000), Harvey Prize (Israel) (2002), Ronald Breslow Award (2005), Wilbur Cross Medal (2005), the National Medal of Science (2006), Frank H. Westheimer Medal (2009) and Prelog Medal (2015).
Dervan is considered an outstanding teacher having won several "excellence in teaching awards" from the Caltech undergraduates. He has mentored over 190 predoctoral and postdoctoral co-workers. In addition to teaching, research and administrative duties, he served on several Scientific Advisory Boards for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, as well as the Robert A. Welch Foundation (1988-) and a Trustee of Yale University (2008-17).