University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Rhodes-Thompson Professor of Chemistry


Dr. Smith combines his expertise in bioorganic chemistry, materials science, and natural products to synthesize complex anti-cancer drugs based upon naturally occurring products. Dr. Smith was the first to synthesize large- scale production of discodermolide, a compound found in a sea sponge. As an NFCR-funded scientist since 2016, his collaborative efforts with fellow NFCR scientist, Dr. Susan Horwitz, focus on synthesis of analogs similar to discodermolide but without its toxicity. Discodermolide acts similar to Taxol® but causes cancer cells to become senescent – a dormant cell state that can cause drug resistance and drive tumors to be more aggressive. Using multiple cutting-edge chemical and scientific techniques, Dr. Smith discovered the structural differences between discodermolide and an analog. Testing in Dr. Horwitz’s lab suggests the differences underlie the pro-cancer senescent effect. The discodermolide analogs developed by Drs. Smith and Horwitz have the potential to improve outcomes for patients with breast, ovarian and lung cancer.

Dr. Smith has recently developed viable synthesis of two additional natural anti-cancer products: 1) pterocidin – derived from bacteria and shown to lower progression of colon cancer and 2) neaumycin B – derived from a marine sponge and shown to be a potent anti-tumor agent for the difficult-to-treat brain cancer, glioblastoma or GBM. Dr. Smith’s synthesis of new anti-cancer agents with high potency to kill cancer and low propensity to induce senescence has the potential to greatly impact the outcomes for cancer patients.


Amos B. Smith III, Ph.D., received his Bachelor and Master’s degrees from Bucknell University and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University, where he was also an associate from 1972-1973.

In addition to his fellowship with NFCR, Dr. Smith is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and member of the ESPCI ParisTech Scientific Council.

Dr. Smith’s laboratory has prepared more than 90 natural products possessing significant bioregulatory properties to date and his research achievements have been reported in more than 500 peer-reviewed publications. In 2015, Dr. Smith was awarded the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Perkin Prize for Organic Chemistry.