David Kingston

University Distinguished Professor
  • Chemistry
  • College of Science


Dr. Kingston researches the chemistry of biologically active natural products related to cancer, the discovery of new anticancer agents from plants, and biodiversity conservation and drug discovery in tropical rainforests.


Natural products have provided over a third of currently used pharmaceuticals, and the tropical rain forests of the world represent a great and largely untapped source of new natural products. Regrettably these forests are disappearing at a rapid rate as they are logged for timber or conversion to agricultural purposes. Dr. Kingston has joined with conservation, industrial, and botanical groups to develop a model program for drug discovery and biodiversity conservation in Madagascar. Plants, marine organisms, and microbial species are collected in Madagascar and screened for bioactivity at Virginia Tech, and those with anticancer activity or CNS activity are studied in our laboratories. His research team has also helped to set up a malaria screening facility in Madagascar, and is working to isolate antimalarial compounds in collaboration with Malagasy colleagues. Any royalties from the resulting drugs will be shared with Madagascar as an economic incentive to maintain their tropical forests.

Dr. Kingston was the first chemist in the United States to study the chemistry of paclitaxel, which is marketed as Taxol and is widely used to treat breast and ovarian cancer. He has prepared hundreds of derivatives of paclitaxel, including several with improved activity compared with the parent compound, and he has provided experimental confirmation of the proposed "T-Taxol" tubulin-binding conformation of paclitaxel. A significant validation of this conformation was the synthesis of compounds that owe their improved activity to being constrained to the T-Taxol conformation. He is currently working on a nanoparticle drug delivery method for paclitaxel in collaboration with CytImmune Sciences Inc.

Podcast about how Dr. Kingston became interested in his field of research.