Hong-yu Li, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, was awarded the $1 million Helen Adams & Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Endowed Chair and named an ARA scholar in a ceremony held Monday at the Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock.
Using a bequest from Helen Adams, UAMS is funding $500,000 of the chair, with the ARA chipping in another $500,000. Adams, who died in 2004 and co-owned a Fayetteville flower shop with her husband, was a 1929 graduate of UAMS.
This is the first time that money from a university and the nonprofit have been combined to create an endowed chair, according to UAMS Chancellor Dr. Dan Rahn.
That $1 million will be invested by the university's foundation so that it generates revenue and maintains purchasing power, Rahn said. He said excess income is made available to the chair holder to support work; in this case, the payment rate currently available to Li is 5 percent.
Li holds a doctorate from the University of Tokyo in Japan and has 15 years of experience in drug discovery and development, according to a news release. He has focused on cancer treatment.
Li received a master of science in pharmacy degree in 1989 from Sichuan University in Chengdu, China. He was an assistant professor at the Institute of Chemical Reaction Science at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, from 1995-1997.
Li completed post-doctoral fellowships in chemistry at Columbia University in New York and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He then worked nine years for global pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. of Indianapolis.
Li had been an associate professor at the University of Arizona’s College of Pharmacy since 2010 and joined UAMS on April 1 as a College of Pharmacy professor.
He told those who attended the ceremony that his work is a challenging and "very costly endeavor." Li also said collaboration is the key to moving forward.
He has collaborated with researchers in the United Kingdom, Italy, China, New Zealand and California, Li said.
"I look forward to working with you to bring new medicine to patients," he said.
Dr. Neil Shah with the University of California in San Francisco has worked with Li.
"For all of you 'Breaking Bad' fans, (Li is) the best medicinal chemist to come out of the Southwest, Shah said. "This guy can cook."
Shah said his collaboration with Li had lead to publications, successful grant applications and the launching of a company.
An endowed chair is the highest academic honor a university can give to its faculty. The chair may honor a loved one or a person's accomplishments and is supported by donations of $1 million or more. The chair holder can use interest proceeds for research, teaching or service activities, according to UAMS.
"Research is expensive," Rahn said. "It always costs more. You always end up putting more money into it than the money that comes directly out of it. Universities have to put about 50 cents of additional internal resources in for each $1 of external research funding that comes back out.”
Rahn said universities invest in research because "fundamentally, we're in the knowledge business…for the benefit of humanity, to improve the cause of health."
Keith Olsen, dean of the UAMS College of Pharmacy, said the endowed chair was significant because the school is stepping up its efforts to connect science with the marketplace even as research dollars are shrinking.
ARA President and CEO Jerry Adams said the nonprofit is completing its eighth year and Li will be its eighth scholar, while two more scholars were approved by its board of directors last month. He said the new scholars would be named later this year.
He and the endowed chair's namesake are not related.
Adams told those in attendance that ARA partnered in 2013 with the Food and Drug Administration to focus on "leveraging the relationship between the state of Arkansas and the FDA laboratory, the National Center for Toxicological Research located in Jefferson, Arkansas."
A nanotoxicity project on grapheme and a liquid biopsy project followed the partnership.
Adams also said that ARA would host its first Academy of Scholars and Fellows Meeting in October.