Skip to main content


Photo of Synthesis Core members.
L-R: Gary A. Sulikowski, Kwangho Kim, Alex G. Waterson, Plamen Christov, Benjamin W. Guttentag, LaToya D. Scaggs, Ian Romaine, KyuOk Jeon, Somnath Jana
Zachary R Austin, PhD

Staff Scientist

Zach earned his BS in chemistry from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 2011 where he worked under Dr. Michael Best synthesizing lipid bilayers. He came to Vanderbilt University in 2015 where he received his Ph.D. under Dr. Gary Sulikowski completing the total synthesis of various arachidonic acid metabolites, primarily the D13-9-isofurans. Zach continued as a postdoctoral research associate under Dr. Sulikowski and Dr. Alex Waterson synthesizing a number of RSK inhibitors. He joined the MDSC team in 2023.

Plamen Christov, PhD

Assistant Director

Plamen Christov earned his PhD in Chemistry at Vanderbilt University. As a graduate student he worked on the synthesis of phosphoramidites for site-specific synthesis of various N5-alkyl-Fapy-dGuo oligonucleotides that result from genotoxic substances including chemotheraputic agents. He also worked on the bypass and incision of N5-alkyl-Fapy-dGuo lesions by DNA polymerases and DNA glycosylases, respectively. His research also involved the use of Mass Spectrometry (LC/MS3) to identify and quantify small molecules in complex mixtures. In addition, Plamen Christov developed a very sensitive LC-ESI-MS/MS method for sequencing and quantitating the replication bypass products of N5-alkyl-Fapy-dGuo lesions.

Sydnee Elmore, MS

Lab Manager

Sydnee earned her BS (2016) and MS (2019) from Mississippi State University. During her graduate studies, she worked under Dr Joseph Emerson synthesizing Mn-based catalysts and used DNA-templating to perform asymmetric aziridinations in water and buffered aqueous solutions. After earning her MS, she became a Lab Instructor in the Department of Chemistry before joining MSU Environmental Health & Safety as the university’s Chemical Hygiene Officer. Following that she moved to Tennessee where she worked for Electrolux as an R&D Food Technologist developing configurations for various oven functions. She joined the VICB as Lab Manager in January 2024.

Benjamin W. Guttentag, BS

Research Assistant, Senior

Benjamin earned his B.A. in Chemistry from Franklin and Marshall College. He had research experience in a lab for three summers during his undergraduate education as well as general lab experience during all four years of enrollment under Dr. Claude Yoder and Dr. Jennifer Morford. He also had summer internship at Vanderbilt University under Dr. Kevin Schey to learn identification of intracellular vesicle location in bovine eyes via the phosphorylation of aquaporin-0.

Somnath Jana, PhD

Drug Discovery Scientist

Somnath earned his M.S degree at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, India, under the supervision of professor Krishna P. Kaliappan. He worked on novel synthetic methods for carbasugars. He came to Oregon State University, to pursue his Ph.D. degree. He joined Professor James D. White’s lab and worked on the total synthesis of providencin, a highly oxygenated diterpene natural product. After graduation, he joined the University of Utah to work with Professor Jon D. Rainier as a postdoctoral fellow. He was involved in developing new methods to synthesize indoline and benzofuran scaffolds using a Suzuki-Miyaura coupling/oxidative cyclization strategy. Then he moved to Vanderbilt University to join VICB Synthesis Core as a staff scientist.

KyuOk Jeon, PhD

Drug Discovery Scientist, Senior

KyuOk earned a M.S. Chemistry degree in January 2004 from Graduate School of Kangwon National University, South Korea then accepted into the graduate program at the University of Kansas and began her graduate career in January of 2007.  During this time, she joined the Prof. Paul Hanson Research Group and worked on development of new methodologies for sultam compounds as well as generation of sultam libraries as a part of KU-CMLD, NIH Center of Excellence in Chemical Methods and Library Development. After earning her Ph.D. degree, she moved to the University of Pittsburgh in Prof. Peter Wipf’s laboratory as a postdoctoral fellow and worked on analogs preparation of (±)-meloscine. In 2014 she joined to Prof. Steve Fesik’s lab at Vanderbilt University as a medicinal chemist and she made contribution to the discovery of Mcl-1 and WDR5 inhibitors. Then she moved to join VICB synthesis core in 2020.

Kwangho Kim, PhD

Director of Molecular Design and Synthesis Center
Research Associate Professor of Chemistry

Kwangho Kim earned PhD in organic chemistry under the direction of Professor Fumie Sato at Tokyo Institute of Technology. He was involved in the development of novel synthetic methodologies and synthesis of biologically active compounds. In particular he developed novel chiral building blocks to construct a number of multifunctional chiral acyclic and cyclic compounds by using organotitanium reagents, and obtained his Ph.D. degree in 2001. For his research and education, received the Japanese Government Monbusho Scholarship and Sasagawa Scientific Research Grant from the Japan Science Society.

From 2001-2004, he was a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Professor Gary A. Sulikowski at Texas A&M University in college station, where he contributed to the total synthesis of hibarimicin B and congeners of a protein tyrosine kinase inhibitor. In 2006, he joined the chemical synthesis core.

Ian Romaine, PhD

Drug Discovery Scientist

Ian Received a BS from Lipscomb University and an MS from MTSU.  During the time at MTSU he was responsible for making podophyllotoxin analogs.   To further his graduate career, Ian earned his Ph.D. in the lab of Professor Gary Sulikowski at Vanderbilt University.  Here he undertook the determination of absolute stereochemistry about the biaryl bond in the hibarimicins.  This was accomplished through non-stereospecific biaryl coupling, then a novel deracemization to a single atropisomer.

Gary Sulikowski, PhD

Faculty Director of Molecular Design and Synthesis Center (VICB), Director of Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology (VICB), Stevenson Professor of Chemistry

Gary A. Sulikowski, Faculty Director of the MDCS, received a BS in chemistry from Wayne State University and a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. He was an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at Yale University. His first faculty appointment was in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M University in 1991 and joined the Vanderbilt Chemistry Department and Institute of Chemical Biology in 2004. Sulikowski’s research interests are on the design and development of chemical syntheses of complex molecules, specifically bioactive natural products and molecular probes. Over time his interests have expanded to the chemical synthesis of molecular tools with application in biological research and therapeutic lead development. He has published over 125 research publications and co-authored 11 patents.

Alex Waterson, PhD

Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Cancer Drug Discovery (VCCDD)
Associate Director of Drug Discovery for the VICB
Research Professor of Pharmacology
Research Professor of Chemistry

NExT Program (National Cancer Institute Experimental Therapeutics Program)

More Information


Alex G. Waterson, Ph.D. is currently Research Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Classically trained as a synthetic organic chemist, he completed his Ph.D. studies with Professor Al Padwa at Emory University, and conducted postdoctoral research at Colorado State University in the group of the late Professor Albert I. Meyers. Alex joined a medicinal chemistry team at GlaxoSmithKline in the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina in 2001, contributing to the discovery of covalently modifying ErbB inhibitors and the B-Raf drug Dabrafenib, among other projects.

Upon transitioning to Vanderbilt in 2008, he helped establish the National Cancer Institute-funded Vanderbilt Center for Cancer Drug Discovery and joined Professor Fesik’s fragment-based discovery team. He has led primarily oncology drug discovery projects aimed at direct and indirect inhibition of K-RAS, as well as protease, epigenetic, and cancer metabolism targets. As Associate Director of Medicinal Chemistry for the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, he continues to impact small-molecule discovery projects across the University and its associated medical center.

Dr. Waterson has co-authored 51 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and is a named co-inventor on 25 published patent applications. He is an active member of the Chemistry in Cancer Research Workgroup of the American Association for Cancer Research, and is currently an Editorial Advisory Board member for ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters.