New Fund Will Support Early Stage Drug Discovery

April 09, 2012

A new program, jointly funded by the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) and the Moulder Center for Drug Discovery Research at Temple University, will help researchers identify and test chemical compounds that could be candidates for new drugs. 

The $500,000 fund, called the Drug Discovery Pilot Award Program, represents the next stage in a complementary relationship that was formed between URMC and the Moulder Center last year. The collaboration enables URMC scientists to combine their knowledge of the underlying biology of disease with the ability of the medicinal chemists and pharmacologists at the Moulder Center to identify and create compounds suitable for medical research and eventual use in humans.

“The partnership we have formed with the Moulder Center represents an exciting opportunity to create a pipeline of potential new drugs,” said Mark Taubman, M.D., dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “As universities become more active in the field of early stage drug discovery and clinical research, the connection we have formed with the Moulder Center will be an essential resource for our scientists.”

The identification of a new drug candidate requires several stages of investigation and involves many different scientific disciplines. First, it requires that scientists understand how a disease functions at the molecular level. Using that knowledge, scientists can then begin to identify “targets” – molecular activity that, if altered or disrupted, may in some way impact the course of the disease. This understanding of the fundamental biology of disease is a particular strength of URMC scientists.

Once potential targets are identified, scientists then need access to large libraries of tens of thousands of chemical compounds in order to identify molecules that can act upon the target. Once identified, these chemicals need to be modified to improve their activity, specificity, and suitability for use in humans. The Moulder Center – which was founded in 2008 by former Wyeth executive Magid Abou-Gharbia, Ph.D. – is home to a unique, state-of-the-art laboratory that brings together pharmaceutical talent, instrumentation, and software to create one of the nation’s top centers for integrated drug research. 

“The Moulder Center for Drug Discovery and its staff are dedicated to advancing drug discovery science through collaborative research and training programs designed to develop scientific talents of the next generation”, said Abou-Gharbia. “Our team has the ability to support projects at all stages of drug development, from early stage target validation to candidate selection and pre-clinical safety studies. There is a great synergy between the unique capabilities possessed by UMRC researchers and the Moulder Center. We are very excited at the opportunity to collaborate and leverage that combined technology and expertise in the search for new medicines to more effectively treat human disease." 

URMC and Moulder Center scientists are already collaborating on a number of joint research projects in the fields of antimicrobial drug discovery, neurological disorders, and cancer.

The new Drug Discovery Pilot Award Program will support two categories of research. The first will fund “early exploratory studies” and consist of grants to scientists that allow them to conduct focused preliminary experiments and to access to high throughput screening technologies that can rapidly evaluate and identify suitable chemical compounds.   The program will also support “lead finding studies” which will enable scientists to take their research a step further by confirming that a compound and its target are a match, producing “second generation” compounds with improved activity against that target, and testing whether these compounds have characteristics that are compatible with the human body.

For more information about the Drug Discovery Pilot Award Program, visit: www.ddpa.urmc.edu

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