Professor Emeritus Lester A. Mitscher dies at 83

University of Kansas School of Pharmacy Professor Emeritus Lester A. Mitscher, one of the nation’s leading medicinal chemists, died Friday, May 8. He was 83 years old.

The former chair of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry and University Distinguished Professor was best known for his work in natural product chemistry. His research ranged from the development and popularization of the use of circular dichroism for structural elucidation to the isolation of novel entities using bioassay-guided fractionation.

He specialized in the search for new antimicrobial agents and was a key player in the development of both tetracycline- and quinolone-based agents. A notable example of his work in this area was the isolation of novel antioxidants from green tea. The work attracted intense interest from the profession and the media.

School of Pharmacy Dean Ken Audus said Mitscher played a key role in establishing the school as one of the nation’s premier research institutions.

“When you look at the history of the school, there are a few people who stand out in terms of the work they did and the influence they had on the school and the profession itself. Les is certainly in that group.” Audus said. “He and Betty are also counted amongst our most loyal supporters. Betty and her family are in our thoughts and prayers.”

Mitscher was born and raised in Detroit and earned a B.S. in pharmacy from Wayne State University and a Ph.D. in the laboratory of Carl Djerassi at Wayne State. He worked at Lederle Laboratories for 10 years. He left as group leader in antibiotics to join the faculty at Ohio State University, where he was professor of natural products chemistry in the College of Pharmacy. He joined the faculty of the University of Kansas in 1975. At Kansas, he has served as chairman of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry for 16 years. He recently retired as editor of Medicinal Research Reviews, and he served on the editorial boards of 13 journals.  He co-authored or edited six books and was the senior author of nearly 250 scientific papers.

Throughout his decorated career, Mitscher earned numerous awards and honors, including the Research Achievement Award in Natural Products Chemistry from the American Pharmaceutical Association in 1980, the Ernest H. Volweiler Award for Research Achievement from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 1985, the Higuchi-Simons Award in Biomedical Sciences at Kansas University in 1986, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Edward E. Smissman Award in Medicinal Chemistry from the American Chemical Society in 1989, the Division of Medicinal Chemistry Award from the American Chemical Society in 2000 and the Norman R. Farnsworth Research Achievement Award from the American Society for Pharmacognosy in 2007. He was also named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1995.

“Les was a gentleman scholar and leaves a remarkable legacy as a scientist and educator,” Department of Medicinal Chemistry Chair Tom Prisinzano said. “We will miss him dearly and are thankful for the countless contributions he made to the department, school and the profession.”

View a comprehensive list of Mitscher’s research.