By Jonathan King, CCIL Communications Specialist

Cancer Center at Illinois (CCIL) Deputy Director Paul Hergenrother was recently named a 2023 National Cancer Institute (NCI) Outstanding Investigator. The prestigious NCI Outstanding Investigator Award (OIA) recognizes the outstanding research performance of cancer researchers, providing investigators with significant financial support to undergird current or future research programs of “unusual potential in cancer.”

Hergenrother, the Kenneth L. Rinehart Jr. Endowed Chair in Natural Products Chemistry, and Professor of Chemistry, is the first University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign researcher to receive this celebrated award.

The NCI established the OIA in 2014 for principal investigators with significant research accomplishments. The OIA supports investigators for seven years with up to $600,000 annually in direct costs, alleviating the burden associated with frequent grant applications and encouraging investigators to pursue bold research projects.

At the CCIL, Hergenrother is a member of the Cancer Discovery Platforms Bridging the Engineering-Biology Continuum research program, in which his strategic theme is Drug Discovery. Hergenrother’s primary cancer research focus is the identification of new anticancer compounds with unusual modes-of-action.

Hergenrother’s lab has discovered multiple new anticancer compounds. His lab discovered the compound PAC-1, which has advanced through a close collaboration with CCIL researcher Prof. Tim Fan and recently completed a Phase 1 clinical trial in late-stage cancer patients. In collaboration with the laboratory of CCIL researcher Prof. David Shapiro, Hergenrother’s lab discovered the compound ErSO, licensed for clinical development by Bayer AG in 2021, and the recently announced TEQ103 compound licensed by Oncoteq. In addition, the compound IB-DNQ was discovered in the Hergenrother lab and is advancing toward clinical trials.

“First and foremost, this award is a testament to all of my amazing current and former students, postdocs, and all the great collaborations over the years, most notably with Professor Fan, but also with Professors Shaprio, Nelson, Kranz and many others,” said Hergenrother. “This award gives our lab more flexibility in the research we can pursue, sustaining current projects and catalyzing more ambitious future projects. We want to discover more interesting and active compounds, and hopefully, ones with unique and effective ways to treat cancer patients that will have a positive impact on their lives. That’s our goal. We’re thrilled with this honor, but we know there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it.”

Hergenrother is a professor of chemistry, the leader of the Anticancer Discovery from Pets to People theme at the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), the director of the NIH-supported Chemistry-Biology Interface Training Program, and the Kenneth L. Rinehart Jr. Endowed Chair in Natural Products Chemistry.