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John Katzenellenbogen, PhD

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, Illinois

Titles and Affiliations

Swanlund Professor of Chemistry
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Champaign, Illinois

Research area

Developing drugs that will prevent resistance to anti-estrogen therapies, stop recurrence and metastasis, and extend the lives of patients with estrogen receptor-positive and triple-negative breast cancer.


Most breast cancers are hormone receptor positive and can be treated successfully with targeted therapies that block the receptors’ ability to drive cancer progression. However, approximately one third of metastatic estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers contain mutations in the estrogen receptor that make the cancer resistant to hormone therapies. Dr. Katzenellenbogen has been investigating how these altered receptors work and developing novel anti-estrogens agents as potential, alternative treatments against breast cancers that harbor these mutations. His team is also developing alternative treatments for triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), an aggressive subtype of breast cancer that lacks hormone receptors, has limited treatment options, and has a high likelihood of recurrence and metastasis. While TNBC lacks estrogen receptor alpha (ERα), a major treatment target in estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancers, most TNBCs contain estrogen receptor beta (ERβ). Therefore, Dr. Katzenellenbogen is focused on evaluating ERβ as a potential target for treating TNBC. The results of his studies have the potential to define new strategies to treat ER-positive and triple-negative breast cancers that will decrease the recurrence or metastasis of these diseases.

Progress Thus Far

Dr. Katzenellenbogen and his team have developed new anti-estrogen agents that inhibit the proliferation, growth, and metastasis of breast tumors, thus providing promising candidates for further development. In his TNBC studies, his team has developed several ERβ-selective compounds and antibodies that have produced promising results in laboratory models of TNBC.

What’s next

Dr. Katzenellenbogen and his team will continue to characterize the newly developed anti-estrogens for ER-positive breast cancers They will also continue to analyze the levels and activities of ERβ in TNBC focusing on the most promising targets to reduce the growth of TNBC cells and tumors, thereby slowing their metastatic spread.


Dr. John Katzenellenbogen, Swanlund Professor of Chemistry, directs a research program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that spans chemistry, biology, and medical applications with a particular focus on the action of estrogens in breast cancer. He is recognized internationally as a pioneer in the development of novel diagnostic and therapeutic agents for the management of hormone-regulated cancers, including the PET imaging agents FES for estrogen receptors in breast cancers and FDHT for androgen receptor in prostate cancers, both of which are widely used in the clinical development of novel anti-hormonal agents. Through his extensive work elucidating the molecular details of estrogen action in various target tissues, he has designed novel estrogens that are being actively used to elucidate estrogen actions by numerous collaborators throughout the world.

Dr. John Katzenellenbogen has been honored as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on whose National Council he served for many years, he is the recipient of the Paul Aebersold Award from the Society of Nuclear Medicine, the E. B. Hershberg Award for Important Discoveries in Medicinal Chemistry, the Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Service, the Portoghese Medicinal Chemistry Lectureship Award, and induction into the Medicinal Chemistry Hall of Fame of the American Chemical Society, The Royal Society of Chemistry Centenary Award, the Leading Edge Award from the Society of Toxicology, and with Dr. Benita Katzenellenbogen the Fred Conrad Koch Lifetime Achievement Award from the Endocrine Society. He has trained more than 100 doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, and he has published more than 500 articles.

BCRF Investigator Since


Areas of Focus

Metastasis Treatment