Li Group News


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Special Issue of Molecules to honor Dr. Duane D Miller, please consider to contribute. Dr. Li is guest editing a special issue of the journal to honor Dr. Duane D. Miller, who is an Emeritus Professor at UTHSC and a member of the NAI. Please see the link for details and consider contributing a research paper or review paper.

Special Issue of Molecules for Tubulin Inhibitors, please consider contributing. Dr. Li and Dr. Kevin Pinney at Baylor University are co-guest editings a special issue on Tubulin inhibitors. Both review and research papers are welcome. Please see the link for details and consider contributing to this special issue.


Nove 7, Dr. Miller and Dr. Li are among the awardees of the 2022 Health Care Heroes by the Memphis Business Journal, in the category of health care innovations. The award event will be held on December 6.

November 4, our collaborative work on the MDM2 with Emory University, titled “MYCN mRNA degradation and cancer suppression by a selective small-molecule inhibitor in MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma”, is accepted by the journal Frontiers in Oncology (current IF=6.24). Congratulations to Jim and Najah for designing and making the compound, and our collaborators in Emory University.

October 24, with the approval of the CoP Interim Dean, Dr. Brad Boucher, the UTCoP Drug Discovery Center is establishing the annual “Duane D. Miller Lectureship in Drug Discovery” to honor Dr. Duane D. Miller who joined UTCoP in 1991 and established the medicinal chemistry and drug discovery program. This named lectureship will invite a highly accomplished researcher in the area of drug discovery to present a seminar to UTCoP Drug Discovery Center and the UTHSC campus. In addition, two trainee awards are created, one is the “Duane D. Miller Graduate Student Award in Drug Discovery” for a graduate student, and the “Duane D. Miller Postdoc Award in Drug Discovery” for a postdoc/research associate, who works at a DDC PI’s lab. These two awards will be given annually associated with the Lectureship. Details will be established later and will be announced soon.

October 23, Kelli’s co-first author paper, titled ” Sabizabulin, a potent orally bioavailable colchicine binding site agent, suppresses HER2+ breast cancer and metastasis”, is accepted by the journal Cancers (current IF=6.32).  Congratulations to Kelli and Hao and all authors on this paper.

September 8, Jiaxing and Dr. Li are co-authors of a paper from Dr. Junming Yue’s and Dr. Wenjing Zhang’s labs. The title of the paper is “Cryptotanshinone inhibits ovarian tumor growth and metastasis by degrading c-Myc and attenuating the FAK pathway”, which is accepted today in the journal Frontiers Cell and Developmental Biology (current IF=6.68). Congratulations to Jiaxing and all authors.

September 1, Hao has been promoted to Assistant Professor from Research Associate, effective in September 1, 2022. Congratulations to Professor Chen!

July 22,  Hao, Shanshan and Dr. Li are co-authors with Dr. Ram I Mahato and his team at UNMC, for an accepted paper, “pH-sensitive Nanomedicine of Novel Tubulin Polymerization Inhibitor to Lung Metastatic Melanoma” in J Controlled Release (current IF=11.47). Congratulations to Hao and Shanshan for their contributions to this paper.

July 11, Dr. Li’s collaborator, Dr. Ram I Mahato, at UNMC College of Pharmacy, received a new 5-year R01 grant from NINDS, 7/15/2022-5/31/2027, with a total amount of $2,391,270. Dr. Li is a subcontract PI on this grant, with $190,575 total support to provide the design and synthesis for the compounds proposed in this project.

June 17, Dr. Li is a co-author with Dr. Jianxiong Jiang’s lab (Drs Jianxiong Jiang and Ying Yu) for a paper titled “TRPC channels as emerging targets for seizure disorders”, which is accepted in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences (current IF=17.638).

June 9, Dr. Li and UTCoM collaborators Drs Junming Yue and Wenjing Zhang is awarded a new UTHSC Functional Genomics CORNET grant, titled “An ovarian cancer mouse model recapitulating human disease phenotype”. It is partially based on Luke’s work in synthesizing HL142 which was published in J Cancer previously. Thanks to Luke for the great work.

June 7, Veru Inc submitted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) Application to U.S. FDA for Sabizabulin (VERU-111) for Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients at High Risk for ARDS. Sabizabulin was originally synthesized by Dr. Jianjun Chen (then a PhD grad student) in our lab. We will see if FDA will approve this EUA application.

June 3, Dr. Li and Dr. Dejian Ma co-authored a paper with Drs Alex Dopico and Anna Bukiya and others, titled “Discovery of agonist-antagonist pairs for the modulation of Ca2+ and voltage-gated K+ channels of large conductance that contain beta1 subunits”, is accepted in Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry (current IF=3.64).

May 26, Dr. Li as a multiple PI (MPI) with Drs Francesca-Fang Liao (NIH contact PI, UTHSC Pharmacology) and  Kiran Bhaskar at University of New Mexico (MPI), are awarded a new NIH/NIA grant 1RF1AG072703-01A1, with the title of “Validation of a novel tau clearance mechanism”. It is a five-year grant, and the first three year award (6/2022-5/2025) totals $2,157,183. The remaining two years of award (6/2025-5/2027) will be expected to be issued upon satisfactory completion of the first three years of work.

May 23, Dr. Li co-authored a paper with Drs Arnie Postlethwaite (who sadly passed away earlier this year) and Dr. Weikuan Gu, titled “Beta-caryophyllene prevents the defects in trabecular bone caused by Vitamin D deficiency through pathways instated by increased expression of klotho”, is accepted in Bone & Joint Research (current IF=5.853).

May 20, Vijay is the awardee for the 2022 Ronald F. Borne Postdoctoral Poster Presentation Award during the 47th MALTO meeting. Congratulations to Vijay for this outstanding achievement. A picture of UTHSC attendees is shown below:

May 19, Dr. Li co-authored a paper with Dr. Andrzej Slominski and other colleagues, titled “CYP11A1-derived vitamin D hydroxyderivatives as candidates for therapy of basal and squamous cell carcinomas”, which is accepted in the International of Oncology (current IF=5.65).

May 16, Rui is selected as the 2022 CGHS Outstanding Student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Program during the Graduate Research Day. Congratulations to Rui for this outstanding achievement.

Apr 13, Shanshan’s paper, titled “Colchicine-binding site agent CH-2-77 as a potent tubulin inhibitor suppressing triple-negative breast cancer”, is accepted in the AACR journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics (current IF=6.26). Congratulations to Shanshan, Kelli, Hao, Rui, Foyez in the Li lab, and all our co-authors.

Apr 11, Sabizabulin, originally discovered in our lab back in 2010-2011 and first published in our 2012 J Med Chem paper (, showed a reduction of 55% death rate compared with placebos in hospitalized COVID-19 patients in a recent Phase 3 trial, according to Veru, Inc., the company who licensed this patent portfolio for commercialization. This is a productive collaborative project among the Li lab, the Miller lab, and the Dalton lab. More information can be found:, among a few media sites.

Mar 18, The Li lab received a New Grant Support grant in the amount of $30,000 to perform additional work with Dr. Junming Yue’s lab for resubmission of a well-scored DoD ovarian cancer grant application.

Mar 16, Rui is awarded $500 travel grant from CGHS for presenting her work at the 2022 AACR annual meeting. Vijay won the award of $1,000 travel grant from UTHSC Postdoc Research Day presentation. Vijay will use this award to attend the 2022 ACS National Meeting in San Diego. Congratulations to both Rui and Vijay for the outstanding performance.

Mar 15, Najah was selected as the 2021 UTHSC College of Pharmacy Outstanding Graduate Student Awardee. This is an award given out each year to one Ph.D. student in UTHSC College of Pharmacy to recognize the outstanding performance and leadership of the graduate student. Congratulations to Najah for this outstanding award.

Jan 31, our co-authored paper with Dr. Jianxiong Jiang’s lab, titled “Inhibition of TRPC3 channels by a novel pyrazole compound confers antiseizure effects”, is accepted in Epilepsia (current IF=6.04). This paper demonstrated that our patented TRPC3 inhibitor, JW-65, has good efficacy in two different epilepsy animal models and performs better than a standard of care drug for epilepsy. Congratulations to Sicheng, Vijay, Jim from the Li lab, and our outstanding collaborators from the Jiang lab.

Jan 10, our co-authored paper with Dr. Chao-Yie Yang’s lab, titled “Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Apcin-Based CDC20 Inhibitors” is accepted by ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters (current IF=4.34). Congratulations to Rui who made contributions to this paper as a co-author.


December 26, another collaborative paper with Dr. Arnie Postlethwaite, who sadly passed away earlier this year, and other colleagues in the vitamin D area, is accepted in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (current IF=5.92). The title of the paper is “Modulation by 17,20S(OH)2pD of Fibrosis-related Mediators in Dermal Fibroblast Lines from Healthy Donors and from Patients with Systemic Sclerosis”. Sicheng as a co-author on this paper contributed significantly. Congratulations to Sicheng and all authors for this contribution.

December 9, our collaborative paper with Dr. Arnie Postlethwaite, who sadly passed away earlier this year, and other colleagues in the vitamin D area, is accepted in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (current IF=5.92), the title of the paper is “1,25-Dihydroxyvitamin D3 and 20-hydroxyvitamin D3 Upregulate LAIR-1 and Attenuate Collagen Induced Arthritis”. Sicheng as a co-author contributed this work significantly. Congratulations to Sicheng and all authors for this paper. The paper can be found here:

December 7, The Memphis Business Journal ran a story about SEAK Therapeutics, LLC, a UTHSC spin-off company founded by Dr. Li. Details can be found here:

December 3, In the just-completed postdoc research day presentation, Vijay received the 4th place award for virtual presentation, and he was also selected as one of the three travel awardees with $1,000 towards his future travel to attend the 2022 ACS national meeting in San Diego. Congratulations to Vijay and the TRPC3 team.

November 22, the Li lab, in collaboration with Dr. Jianxiong Jiang’s lab, received a new NIH/NINDS R61/R33 grant (12/2021-11/2024, total direct $750k, total cost $1.15 million) to develop our patented selective TRPC3 inhibitors as a new potential targeted drug for epilepsy. Thanks to the diligent work from Jim, Sicheng, Vijay, and Jiaxing in the lab and the researchers in the Jiang lab. Additional information is highlighted here:

October 28, Jiaxing’s review paper, titled “Molecular Interactions at the Colchicine Binding Site in Tubulin: An X-Ray Crystallography Perspective”, is accepted in Drug Discovery Today (current IF=7.851). Congratulations to Jiaxing for this comprehensive review paper summarizing the X-ray crystal structures in the field of discovery/development of novel colchicine site tubulin inhibitors for cancer indications.

September 17, Dr. Li’s company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, a spin-off startup from UTHSC, received a matching grant award in the amount of $100,000 from the State of Tennessee for an SBIR grant that SEAK received last year ($399,964).  The matching grant will enable SEAK to further develop the technology and pay for expenses related to patent and intellectual property protections. 

August 24, our collaborative paper with Dr. Monica Jablonski’s lab, titled “: In Silico Screening and In Vivo Evaluation of Potential CACNA2D1 Antagonists as Intraocular Pressure Reducing Agents in Glaucoma Therapy”, is accepted by Pharmaceuticals (current IF=6.32). Congratulations to Luke who is the first author of the paper, and also Hao who contributed to this NEI grant-funded research.

August 14, our collaborative paper with Dr. Postlethewaite’s lab, titled “17,20S(OH)2pD Can Prevent the Development of Skin Fibrosis in the Bleomycin-Induced Scleroderma Mouse Model”, is accepted by International Journal of Molecular Sciences (current IF=5.92). Congratulations to Sicheng who synthesized 17,20S(OH)2pD and contributed greatly to the writing.

August 3, Our collaborative paper with the Miller lab, titled “X-Ray Crystallography Guided Design, Antitumor Efficacy and QSAR Analysis of Metabolically Stable Cyclopenta-Pyrimidinyl Dihydroquinoxalinone as Potent Tubulin Polymerization Inhibitors” is accepted in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (current IF=7.446). Foyez and Shanshan are co-first authors with Souvik. Congratulations to Foyez, Shanshan, Kinsie, Hao, Jim, and our collaborators.

July 30, Hao’s paper, titled “Design, Synthesis, and Biological Evaluation of Stable Colchicine Binding Site Tubulin Inhibitors 6 Aryl-2-benzoyl-pyridines as Potential Anticancer Agents” is accepted in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (current IF=7.446). Congratulations to Hao, Shanshan, Najuah, Sicheng, and our collaborators.

July 29, The Li lab, in collaboration with the Miller lab, renewed the tubulin R01 grant for its year 11-15 (2021-2026), with a total direct cost of $1.33 million over the five years, and a total cost of $1.96 million.

July 27, our collaboration paper with Dr. Tetali, titled “Berberine, a phytoalkaloid, inhibits inflammatory response induced by LPS through NF-kappaβ pathway: possible involvement of the IKKα” is accepted by the special issue of Molecules (current IF=4.41) honoring Dr. Duane Miller. Congratulations to Luke for the excellent contributions to this paper.

July 22, Najah’s paper, titled “Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Selective Survivin Inhibitors Derived from the MX-106 Hydroxyquinoline Scaffold “, is accepted by European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry (current IF=6.51). Congratulations to Najah, Shanshan, Hao, Sicheng and Jim, and our collaborators in Dr. Junming Yue’s lab.

July 11, Georgina’s review paper published in Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica(current IF =12.9) back in 2015 continued to be widely cited at 1,007 total citations as of today. This is the only paper so far from the lab to pass the 1,000 citation mark. Title of this review paper is “HIF-1α pathway: role, regulation and intervention for cancer therapy”, and its is accessible at

July 7, Luke’s paper in collaboration with Dr. Junming Yue’s lab, titled “A luminacin D analog HL142 inhibits ovarian tumor growth and metastasis by reversing EMT and attenuating the TGFβ and FAK pathways”, is accepted by the Journal of Cancer (current IF=4.2). Congratulations to Luke and Jim.

June 15, our collaborating paper with Dr. Arnie Postlethwaite (sadly passing away early this year), titled “20S-Hydroxyvitamin D3, a Secosteroid Produced in Humans, Inhibits Murine Autoimmune Arthritis”, is accepted in Frontiers in Immunology (current IF=5.085).

June 2, Shanshan is selected as the awardee for the Outstanding Student Award for Academic Excellence by the UTHSC Graduate School. Shanshan graduated from the lab in 2020 and is currently a postdoc at UCSF.

May 25, our co-authored paper with Dr. Yuxi Wang, titled “Recent progress on tubulin inhibitors with dual targeting capabilities for cancer therapy”, is accepted as a Perspective paper in the J Med Chem (current IF=7.446). Congratulations to Sicheng who has done an exceptional job in this very comprehensive paper.

Mar 1, our licensed molecule to Veru Inc., VERU-111, received the FDA agreement to advance to Phase 3 clinical trials for patients with COVID-19, after a successful Phase 2 clinical trial. Details can be found in this news from the Veru website. This is very exciting as COVID-19 could potentially be the beachhead indication for VERU-111. We are actively working with Veru to expand its indication and also develop the next generation of VERU-111 for commercial development.

Feb 26, Sicheng and Jim’s paper, “Discovery of a highly selective and potent TRPC3 inhibitor with high metabolic stability and low toxicity”, is accepted in ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters (current IF=3.975). This is our first paper on the discovery and development of a selective TRPC3 inhibitor for the potential treatment of neurological, neurodegenerative, or cardiovascular diseases. Congratulations to Sicheng, Jim, Jiaxing and Shanshan for this great work.

Feb 17, Sicheng’s review paper, “The role of vitamin D on musculoskeletal and non-musculoskeletal human health”, is accepted in International Journal of Molecular Sciences (current IF=4.6). Congratulations to Sicheng for the great work.

Feb 8, our licensed molecule to Veru Inc., VERU-111, demonstrated good clinical efficacy against COVID-19 in a recently completed Phase 2 clinical trial. VERU-111 is also under Phase 1b/2 clinical trial for resistant prostate cancer. Details can be found from recent news from UTRF and the original press release from Veru Inc.

Feb 8, Hongmei and Qinghui’s paper, “The tubulin inhibitor VERU-111 in combination with Vemurafenib provides an effective treatment of Vemurafenib-resistant A375 melanoma”, is accepted in Frontiers in Pharmacology (IF=4.4), section Pharmacology of Anti-Cancer Drugs.

Jan 27, Jim and Sicheng’s paper “Discovery of N-(3,4-dimethylphenyl)-4-(4-isobutyrylphenyl)-2,3,3a,4,5,9b-hexahydrofuro[3,2-c]quinoline-8-sulfonamide as a potent dual MDM2/XIAP inhibitor”, is accepted in J. Med. Chem. (current IF=6.2).

Jan 14,  Dr. Li’s startup company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, is accepted to the NCI’s Development Center’s pilot program CARE – Connecting Awardees with Regulatory Experts. SEAK will have the opportunity to be connected with an FDA officer at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), and get expert advice on the development of our lead compound as a potential targeted therapy for pediatric cancers.


Nov 11, Shanshan Deng, a graduate student in the Li lab (8/2016-12/2020), successfully defended her PhD thesis, and becomes “Dr. Shanshan Deng”. Shanshan will start her postdoc at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF). Congratulate to Shanshan!

Sept 28, Our collaborative paper with Dr. Ram Mahato at UNMC, titled “Nanoformulation Design and Therapeutic Potential of A Novel Tubulin Inhibitor in Pancreatic Cancer”, is accepted in the Journal of Controlled Release (IF=7.9). Hao synthesized and characterized the compound, and Shanshan contributed to the modeling studies.

Sept 17, Dr. Li’s startup company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, received an NCI SBIR Phase 1 grant, 1R43CA257324-01, for the development of SEAK-114 as a potential agent for pediatric cancer. Dr. Zhongzhi Wu is the contact PI, and Dr. Li is an MPI.

Sept 7, Dr. Li joined the Editorial Board as an Editorial Board member for the journal Cancer Letters.

Sept 3, Foyez’s paper, titled “Orally available tubulin inhibitor VERU-111 enhances antitumor efficacy in paclitaxel-resistant lung cancer”, is accepted in Cancer Letters (IF=7.4). Shanshan and Hao also contributed significantly to this paper. Congratulations to all.

Aug 12, Dr. Li’s startup company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, is awarded an NCI supplementary grant in the amount of $55k to attend the NIH I-Corps training that will be held virtually in late 2020.

Aug 11, Dr. Jianjun Chen, a former lab member in the Li lab and is currently a full professor in China, published a review paper titled “Vitamin D and its analogs as anticancer and anti-inflammatory agents” in European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Dr. Li and his long-time collaborator, Dr. Slominski at UAB School Medicine, are co-authors for this review paper.

Aug 10, Ms Kelli Hartman joins the Li lab as a PhD graduate student. She will be working with Shanshan on preclinical studies of our tubulin inhibitors against metastatic breast cancer, a joint project with Dr. Tiffany Seagroves’ lab in College of Medicine currently funded by a DoD grant. Welcome Kelli.

Aug 5, Dr. Li is appointed as a UTHSC Distinguished Professor. Dr. Li appreciates this recognization of the 21+ years of work at UTHSC from the Dean and the Chancellor, and thanks the hard work from the current and previous members of the Li lab which makes this possible.

July 28, the Li lab, in collaboration with the Zhou lab at Emory School of Medicine, received an NCI R01 grant, titled “Dual inhibition of MDM2 and XIAP as a therapeutic strategy in cancer”, for the total amount of $2.72 million over the next five years.

July 28, Dr. Li’s startup company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, is featured in the 2020 UTRF newsletter,

June 18, Sicheng’s book chapter of Vitamin D in human health is published in the electronic book titled ” Essential and Toxic Trace Elements and Vitamins in Human Health”, hardcover ISBN: 9780128053782, eBook ISBN: 9780128093016, by Elsevier. Congratulations to Sicheng’s hardwork.

May 27, The 3rd Annual Advisory Committee meeting of the UTHSC College of Pharmacy Drug Discovery Center (UTCoP DDC) was held today via Zoom. In this third year, the seven DDC members collectively brought in a little over $4 million funds that credited to UTCoP as PIs, Co-Is, or subcontract PIs, average per DDC member is $576,189 for this year. Thanks to the hard work for all DDC members and the Advisory Committee members.

May 20, Dr. Li co-authored a paper with Dr. Slominski’s lab at UAB, titled “CYP11A1-derived vitamin D3 products protect against UVB-induced inflammation and promote keratinocytes differentiation” in Free Radical Biology and Medicine (IF=5.66).

April 10, Dr. Li and collaborators (Dr. Seagroves and Dr. Miller) is awarded a 2020 UTHSC CORNET grant, titled “Testing efficacy of an orally bioavailable tubulin inhibitor (VERU-111) to inhibit taxane-sensitive and taxane-resistant HER2+ breast cancers”. This is a one-year, $50k pilot grant to support cross-college collaborations.

March 15, Hanxuan (Luke)’s review paper, titled “Osteoporosis: Mechanism, Molecular Target, and Current Status on Drug Development”, was published in Current Medicinal Chemistry. Congratulations to Luke and our collaborators in UTHSC College of Medicine.

Jan 27, The Li lab in collaboration with Dr. Tiffany Seagroves lab at UTHSC pathology received the award notice for a DoD Breast Cancer Research Program Breakthrough Level II grant. The total amount of this $2.27M grant is divided between the labs of Dr. Li (leading PI, amount $1.27M) and Dr. Seagroves (0.997M). Congratulations to the efforts of Shanshan, Hao, Jim and the rest of the team members.

Jan 21, The Li lab in collaboration with Dr. Duane Miller received a second Industry Sponsored Research Agreement grant to develop new therapeutic agent for cancer treatment. Total amount $100k paid over two years.

Jan 14, Shanshan’s paper, titled “An orally available tubulin inhibitor, VERU-111, suppresses triple-negative breast cancer tumor growth and metastasis and bypasses taxane resistance”, is published and featured in the cover page in the Feb’2020 issue of Molecular Cancer Therapeutics Congratulations to Shanshan and all the co-authors.