Today: July 23, 2024

Book Review:  Dr. Tesfaye Biftu: “An Exemplar of Expertise in Drug Discovery”

June 21, 2024

Review by Fekadu Fullas, PhD

Authors/Publisher: Beniam T. Biftu and Moa T. Biftu Printed in the USA, Middletown, USA, 2024 (by Amazon) ages: 1-269 (plus i-vii)

I read the modest-sized book on the biography of Dr. Tesfaye Biftu with much interest. The “Overview” section (pp v-vii) summarizes the whole book in three pages by capturing the highlights of an illustrious career of Dr. Tesfaye. The section is followed by a mesmerizing story of the renowned medicinal chemist who rose from a humble beginning in Ethiopia. The riveting story of his journey took him from a curious kid in a small town in Ethiopia to a seasoned major player in drug discovery research at Merck & Co and CytoMed Inc, both giant drug manufacturers in the USA and of international repute.

The stories told in the book have something to convey to everybody—the lay reader, the beginner in chemistry, the rising researcher in medicinal  chemistry and other scientists alike in various disciplines. It is a reminder that endurance in scientific pursuit in the face of challenges pays off at the end. Dr. Tesfaye’s story is an encapsulation of how a brilliant medicinal chemist like himself is shaped from the beginning to attain the pinnacle of a career.

The book is divided into 18 chapters (Chapters 1-18) and 3 annexes (Annexes I-III). The chapters have various lengths, with Chapter 10 being the shortest (3 pages) and Chapter 17 the longest (31 pages). His early primary education began in Agaro, Jimma, followed by high school in Addis Ababa at General Wingate Secondary School, and then he received further training at Bahir Dar Polytechnic Institute. He travelled abroad and obtained a PhD degree at Brandeis University in the USA.

No doubt, Dr. Tesfaye’s love for his father comes through as infectious, though not surprising considering what his father had inculcated in him right from the get-go in the former’s formative childhood years and beyond (Chapter 2). Dr. Tesfaye was able to secure the release of his father from one of the prisons of the ruthless and dictatorial military conclave, the nefarious Dergue (Chapter 7). He also played a significant role in establishing the first-ever post-graduate program (MSc level) in 1978 at the Chemistry Department of Addis Ababa University. His extra-curricular endeavors in community and business engagement were nothing short of stellar (Chapter 11). Pages 95-124 (Chapters 13-15) are sprinkled with Dr. Tesfaye’s views and opinions on politics in general both in Ethiopia and the USA.

While being most productive in his industrial career at Merck & Co., Dr. Tesfaye also faced some discrimination because of his origin. Yet, he continued his illustrious career with laser-focused attention and patience (Chapter 8 & p 68 therein). He received various awards from international organizations in honor of his sustained outstanding contributions (Chapter 12).

Chapter 17, appropriately titled as “Important Drug Discoveries by Dr. Tesfaye Biftu,” provides an excellent summary of his drug discovery efforts for the treatment of inflammation, infectious diseases, asthma, cholesterolemia, obesity, diabetes, thrombosis and cancer. Annex I gives a rundown of important publications which he co-authored with his colleagues. Many of the drugs he discovered/co-discovered made it the market helping in human therapy. He was co-granted over 100 patents (Annex III) for his ground-breaking discoveries, a huge testimony to his accomplishment by any international standards.

In summary, this is a well-written biography of Dr. Tesfaye Biftu, which is relatively free from typographical errors, except at two places (pp 92 &24). This reviewer highly recommends the book to Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike for its rich content and immense inspirational value.


Tesfaye Biftu
Pharmaceutical Research Brandeis University
Cherry Hill, New Jersey, United States


  1. I expect and in some instances aware of the presence of countrymen/women who achieved success and contributed so much to the advancement of technology in various fields in various countries in the developed world. There were/are scientists at NASA and other homes of advanced technology. There are achievers in the new buzz of the town AI. There were/are engineers who ran/are running huge manufacturing facilities here in the West. There were engineers who showed commies China which way is up in making products at factories going back to the early 1980’s. All this has been untold so far. This book may be the beginning of telling the true stories of achievers who were/are the products of that gem of the colored. It is so worth reading it. Thank you for telling us about it,

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