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Plans emerge for Southwest Comprehensive Center for Drug Discovery and Development

PHOENIX, Ariz. - October 5, 2009 - The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today awarded a $7.5 million grant to the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and The University of Arizona (UA) 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 federal economic recovery 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 events such as exposure to pathogens.

The grant allows TGen to expand its computational chemistry capabilities and high-throughput screening facilities through additional staff and equipment, and 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 Dr. 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 Dr. Christopher Hulme, Associate Professor at the College of Pharmacy and a principal investigator of the award.

Dr. Hulme will lead the center's medicinal chemistry efforts and Dr. Meurice will lead its computational chemistry efforts. Dr. 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," Dr. J. Lyle Bootman, Dean of the UA College of Pharmacy, said. "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 Institute 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 TGen President and Research Director, Dr. Jeffrey Trent.

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 Research 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."

"This proposal brings industrial scale pipeline efforts to a not-for-profit world and opens up a new avenue for creative discovery in academic science working in a more comprehensive, inclusive environment" the review said.

About the Principal Investigators

Dr. Christopher Hulme joined the UA College of Pharmacy in 2007, with 15 years of experience in building and directing medicinal chemistry groups with three big pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Nathalie Meurice contributed significantly to collaborative drug discovery projects as a Visiting Scientist at the UA College of Pharmacy between 2004 and 2006, and then joined the TGen Faculty in 2006. She trained in Academia and Industry, and brings over 10 years of experience in molecular modeling and chemical informatics.

Dr. Spyro Mousses currently directs the TGen Pharmaceutical Genomics Division, which has high throughput infrastructure and resources that will be leveraged by the center.

About TGen
The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. Research at TGen is focused on helping patients with diseases such as cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes. TGen is on the cutting edge of translational research where investigators are able to unravel the genetic components of common and complex diseases. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities, TGen believes it can make a substantial contribution to the efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. TGen is affiliated with the Van Andel Research Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, please visit: www.tgen.org.

About UA College of Pharmacy
Established in 1947, the College of Pharmacy was the first health science college at the Tucson campus of The University of Arizona. Educating pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, the college participates in many interdisciplinary and multi-institutional educational and research collaborations throughout Arizona and globally, and is expanding educational and clinical programs to the biomedical campus in Phoenix. It is ranked among the premier colleges of pharmacy in the United States and is currently sixth among schools of pharmacy in total annual dollars of grant awards from the National Institutes of Health. Visit www.pharmacy.arizona.edu.

The project described was supported by Award Number RC2MH090878 from the National Institute Of Mental Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute Of Mental Health or the National Institutes of Health.

Press Contacts:

Steve Yozwiak
TGen Senior Science Writer
602-343-8704
[email protected]

Ginny Geib
College of Pharmacy
The University of Arizona
520-626-3389
[email protected]

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