Faculty Spotlight: K. H. Lee, PhD
“There is no other school of pharmacy in this nation that does such extensive research in the field of natural products. This is one of the most active natural products research labs in the world. Every day we discover something new…every day we find something that is useful to treat an illness. It is a joy.”
—Dr. K. H. Lee
Collaborators are often sought, but few are pursued to the extent of Kenan Professor K. H. Lee. He and his associates in the Natural Products Research Laboratory bring the world to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in search of intellectual partnership, exchange and cooperation.
Scientists from Japan, Taiwan, China, Sweden, Brazil Hong Kong, and the United Stated—among others—are currently involved in more than sixty collaborative projects with Lee. He likens these collaborations to operating sixty individual laboratories around the world. And yet, letters, e-mails and faxes arrive daily from researchers who want to join the prestigious group of professors, postdoctoral fellows, predoctoral graduate students, and research faculty that Lee has assembled.
Past informs the future
The worldwide interest is generated by the lab’s investigation of bioactive compounds in plants, most often the plants and herbs of traditional Chinese medicine. Lee relies on the experiential knowledge gained by centuries of practice in Chinese medicine as the starting point for uncovering new and more effective drugs.
Since 1971, more than one thousand novel, bioactive natural products and analogs have been discovered. Among them are many anticancer compounds, one hundred of which have been chosen by the National Cancer Institute for evaluation. The lab also holds an impressive tally of more than seventy-five reports of invention and more than thirty patents on new drugs.
Making headway on HIV
Most recently, Lee has generated national attention with a new HIV drug that could revolutionize the way the virus that causes AIDS is treated. The drug, PA-457, has done exceedingly well in Phase II clinical trials, and could become the first of a new class of HIV drugs. Read more.
The collaboration contributing to these discoveries is often initiated when visiting professors to the Natural Products Research Lab return to their native countries. Others are formed when colleagues return from visits to their homeland and submit plant samples. Some are corporate. Other collaborators are chosen to complete the testing on a particular compound after Lee and his staff have isolated its structure, freeing Lee and his staff to begin research on a new product. One oversized filing cabinet drawer is dedicated to nothing but new ideas waiting to be explored—collaborative endeavors in natural products waiting to be brought to fruition.