$7.5M Stimulus Grant to Fund Translational Medicinal Chemistry Program
The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $7.5 million grant to the UA and TGen to fund a drug discovery and development center.

By Ginny Geib, UA College of Pharmacy
Oct. 8, 2009

The National Institutes of Health has awarded a $7.5 million grant to the University of Arizona and the Translational Genomics Research Institute to fund a drug discovery and development center that puts renewed focus on the role of medicinal chemistry.

The two-year grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will enable rapid establishment of both key expertise and infrastructure in the field.

The UA College of Pharmacy and TGen Southwest Comprehensive Center for Drug Discovery and Development will alleviate bottlenecks that exist between the laboratory-based discovery of promising therapeutic targets and the ultimate goal of delivering new, safe and effective drugs to address unmet medical needs of the patient.

The overall goal of the center is to assemble a translational medicinal chemistry team capable of designing and selecting bona fide drug candidates to respond quickly and efficiently when needed.

The team's rapid response is expected to cover a host of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's and heart disease and also events such as exposure to pathogens. The grant allows TGen to expand its computational chemistry capabilities and high-throughput screening facilities in Phoenix through additional staff and equipment, and the UA College of Pharmacy to expand the number of medicinal chemistry investigators and infrastructure, primarily in Tucson.

Plans for the drug discovery and development center include establishing a process to identify molecules of biological interest to reinvigorate drug discovery campaigns, centered on the initial construction of an "Arizona Compound Collection" of as many as 100,000 molecules.

"The center's focus on medicinal chemistry provides the missing link in Arizona's ability to deliver new therapeutic drugs to patients in a timely manner, and further strengthens the collaborative bond between TGen, UA and a host of our respective partners in translational medicine,'' said Nathalie Meurice, TGen associate investigator and one of three principal investigators for the award. By employing a more industrialized and high-throughput approach to medicinal chemistry, the center expects to have a significant impact on health care.

"A plethora of Arizona-based innovative biological advances has set the stage for the establishment of the center and the award represents the successful culmination of 18 months of strategic planning between the College of Pharmacy and TGen to kick-start operations for this pivotal regional resource," said Christopher Hulme,  associate professor at the UA College of Pharmacy and a principal investigator for the project.

Hulme will lead the center's medicinal chemistry efforts and Meurice will lead its computational chemistry efforts. Spyro Mousses, also a principal investigator, will lead the high throughput screening efforts. The investigators each have expertise in critical sectors of the drug-discovery pipeline, forming a collective team with complementary educational backgrounds and experiences.

"This new center is a superb example of a successful public-private partnership," said J. Lyle Bootman, dean of the UA College of Pharmacy. "The collaboration of the two organizations creates a synergy that permits a greatly expanded research effort."

TGen and UA leaders expect the drug discovery and development center, which is aligned with the goals of both the National Institutes of Health and Arizona Bioscience roadmaps, to promote the growth of local biotech by enabling discovery of early stage molecular probes, suitable for accelerated translation into effective, disease-modifying drugs.

"This partnership with the UA College of Pharmacy creates a first-class team that will tackle one of today's pressing issues surrounding drug development, and is further proof the collaborative model continues to serve Arizona's biomedical community well," said Jeffrey Trent, TGen president and research director.

The center's personnel and scientific advisory board will include experts from government research agencies, academia, biotech and the pharmaceutical industry. Researchers from the Van Andel Institute will provide expertise and support in structural biology and crystallography.

Elucidating the structure of novel therapeutic targets entering the center's portfolio is a key step that will truly enable the drug discovery process. NIH reviewers called the management plan for the Southwest Comprehensive Center for Drug Discovery and Development "outstanding."




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