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Blagg earns Mitscher Professorship

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

LAWRENCE — Professor Brian Blagg, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, received the Lester and Betty Mitscher Professorship, the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy announced this week.

The Lester and Betty Mitscher Professorship, named for the late Lester Mitscher, a former university distinguished professor and professor emeritus in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, and his wife, Betty, a longtime supporter of the School of Pharmacy.

Mitscher joined the KU faculty in 1975. He served as chairman of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry for 16 years. In addition to his distinguished work in the lab and in the classroom, Mitscher served as editor of Medicinal Research Reviews and on the editorial boards of 13 journals. He co-authored or edited six books and was the senior author of nearly 250 scientific papers.

“Les Mitscher created a remarkable legacy as a scientist, educator and philanthropist. This named professorship will ensure that his and Betty’s many contributions to the school will be remembered and honored for years to come,” Medicinal Chemistry Chair Tom Prisinzano said.

KU Provost Jeffrey S. Vitter said the Mitschers’ generosity will benefit not only the university, but the entire scientific community as well.

“Named professorships, such as the one established by Lester and Betty Mitscher, play an essential role in the university by recognizing and supporting outstanding faculty members and their scholarly endeavor,” Vitter said. “They provide financial backing for world-class researchers such as Professor Blagg as he pursues breakthroughs in the treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetic nerve damage.”

Blagg earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry and environmental studies in 1994 from Sonoma State University and a doctorate in organic chemistry in 1999 from the University of Utah. He completed an NIH Postdoctoral Fellow at the Scripps Research Institute in 2002. He joined the School of Pharmacy’s medicinal chemistry faculty in the fall of 2002.

The Blagg Research Group works at the interface of chemistry and biology with an emphasis on drug development. The team focuses on the modulation of chaperones, which are proteins that fold other proteins. They have discovered and developed small molecules that halt the protein-folding process and appear beneficial for the treatment of cancer. In contrast, they have also identified molecules that assist in the protein-folding process and lead to promising activity in various neuropathies including Alzheimer’s disease and peripheral neuropathy. The Blagg group collaborated with the research group of Pharmacology and Toxicology Professor Rick Dobrowsky to discover a small molecule that has undergone extensive pre-clinical evaluation and has been licensed by a pharmaceutical company. In early 2016, it will undergo clinical evaluation in humans for the treatment of Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy.

Blagg said his personal respect for Les and Betty Mitscher and his professional admiration of Les’ career make this appointment all the more special.

“It is an honor to have such a professorship, especially in Lester and Betty’s name, as they have been strong advocates of both the School of Pharmacy and the Department of Medicinal Chemistry. Les was among the most well-respected medicinal chemists in the country and pioneered the discovery of several antibiotics that are used clinically today,” Blagg said. “Moreover, he was a good friend and an excellent colleague. The professorship provides an everlasting mechanism to remember the contributions the Mitscher family has made to KU.”

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