Propelling into Success

In 2005, when Dr. Leaf Huang joined UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy as chair of what is now Pharmaco Engineering and Molecular Pharmaceutics, the school wasn’t ranked in the top 10. So, Dr. Huang rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

By 2016, the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy had topped the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings at No. 1.

“My job was to look for the right professors,” says Huang, a Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professor. “I recruited five senior faculty members within my first five years. That kind of gave us the critical mass we needed, and then we began to grow the junior faculty members.”

Before joining the Eshelman School of Pharmacy faculty, he worked at the University of Pittsburgh for 14 years and witnessed its 14th-ranked medical school come into its own.

“So the question was ‘could that be done at a pharmacy school?’” Huang says. “I think the answer, after all these years, is yes.”

The effect of a historic $100 million gift in from Fred Eshelman in 2014 – the largest from an individual in Carolina history, and largest to a pharmacy school in the country – was instrumental in propelling the School to elite status. Faculty collaboration and inter-collegial partnerships were keys to the School’s success, as was the founding of the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, which supports high-risk, high-reward proposals developed by students, faculty and staff.

Content with the growth achieved under his watch, Huang has since stepped down as chair to focus on his research in gene therapy and targeted drug delivery.

“The more we work on it, the more we discover that cancer is very smart and avoids all kinds of approaches to kill it,” Huang says. “So that’s become an intellectual challenge for me: how to get around the cancer strategy to evade therapy.”

Huang says he enjoys working at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy because it’s research-oriented.

“We are not a typical pharmacy school.”

The Eshelman Institute for Innovation is made possible by a $100 million gift from Fred Eshelman to accelerate the creation and development of ideas leading to discoveries and transformative changes in education, research and health care. To learn more about the EII’s impact, visit

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