Li Group News


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9/24/2021: Postdoc position in molecule biology/cancer biology available in the Li lab immediately:

A postdoctoral scholar in molecular biology and/or cancer biology is available in the Li lab. The postdoc will work on NIH and DoD funded studies in various small molecule drug discovery and development projects. The position requires a highly motivated professional with a strong background in molecular biology and/or cancer biology, and a record of productivity.

Special Issue of Molecules to honor Dr. Duane D Miller, the deadline for submission 12/31/2021, 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, the deadline for submission is 12/31/2021, 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.


September 17, Dr. Li’s company, SEAK Therapeutics LLC, a spin-off startup from UTHSC, received a matching grant award from the State of Tennessee for an SBIR grant that SEAK received last year.  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.