Begun in 1994, this annual lecture honors the memory of the late Charles Leighton through a generous endowment from the Merck Company Foundation. Dr. Leighton was a top executive and scientist with Merck & Co. for 28 years before his death in 1993. During his career, Leighton held several positions within the pharmaceutical giant, including Senior Vice President for Medical and Regulatory Affairs Worldwide and Senior Vice President for Administration Planning and Science Policy.

Leighton graduated from Colby College in Maine before going on to Harvard Medical School for his MD. He served fellowships in biology, psychiatry and pharmacology at Harvard, the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, and the institution now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Leighton was the top regulatory officer for Merck’s operations around the world, dealing with both the FDA in the U.S. and similar government agencies in countries across the continents. This was at a time in the 1980s when pharmaceutical science was being widely disrupted and changed by new advances in immunology, genomics, automation, biotechnologies, computerization and a devastating global AIDS pandemic.

Leighton was named to the 10-member President’s Cancer Panel National Committee to Review Current Procedures for Approval of New Drugs for Cancer and AIDS in 1990. It concluded and declared that faster government approval of experimental AIDS and cancer drugs for “desperately ill patients” was justified for regulatory agencies. Leighton received a Distinguished Career Award from the Drug Information Association in 1992, the same year he was appointed chairman of Merck’s first diversity committee.