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U-M Center for the Discovery of New Medicines awards seven new grants

  • Contact Ian Demsky, 734-647-9837, idemsky@umich.edu

Female chemist at work in laboratory. (stock image)

ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan Center for the Discovery of New Medicines has awarded early-stage funding for seven new drug discovery projects by faculty from across U-M.

Six of the projects focus on treating disease including heart failure, runaway cell division in cancer, hypertension, Crohn's disease, a genetic heart disorder and neurological damage. A seventh project aims to improve agents used in positron emission tomography, or PET scanning, which doctors use to evaluate tumors and other tissues.

"The diversity of these latest projects speaks to the breadth and depth of the university's translational research programs and the great entrepreneurial spirit at U-M to move biomedical knowledge toward improving the life of patients," said Vincent Groppi, the center's director.

This marks the ninth round of funding since the center launched in 2012 as a partnership between several campus units to provide mentorship and early-stage support for drug discovery projects.

Including these latest seven projects, the center has invested nearly $1.75 million in 52 projects. They, in turn, have gone on to secure more than $17 million in federal grants and other support. Several projects have received patent protection or have been licensed by a commercial partner.

The grants—of up to $50,000 each—primarily support work in four university core laboratories: the Center for Chemical Genomics and Center for Structural Biology at the U-M Life Sciences Institute, and Pharmacokinetics Core and Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core at the College of Pharmacy.

The latest grants were awarded to:

  • Sami Barmada, assistant professor of neurology in the Medical School, to screen for compounds that can induce a cellular cleanup system known as autophagy, and thereby potentially reduce the loss of neurons associated with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, and also with frontotemporal dementia.
  • Allen Brooks, research investigator in the Department of Radiology in the Medical School, to obtain data to support an investigational new drug application with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a new agent for use in PET scanning that may produce better quality images with a lower dose of radiation. The approach would produce a fluorine-18 labeled analog of a better known agent, NP-59, which was developed at U-M in the 1970s.
  • Sharlene Day, associate professor of cardiology in the Medical School, to screen compounds toward the development of a targeted therapy for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—a genetic heart condition. Heart samples showed patients with the condition had a significant reduction of a protein known as MYBPC3 (myosin binding protein C). The research aims to find compounds that can restore levels of MYBPC3 without affecting other related proteins.
  • Peter Higgins, associate professor of gastroenterology in the Medical School, to design and develop novel inhibitors for a receptor that is involved in the development of intestinal fibrosis associated with Crohn's disease. The proliferation of this thickened, scarred tissue can lead to organ failure.
  • Ryoma "Puck" Ohi, associate professor of cell and developmental biology in the Medical School and affiliate faculty member at the LSI, to isolate "natural products"—chemical compounds derived from living organisms—that can inhibit proteins that function during cell division and thus could serve as anti-cancer agents.
  • Marschall Runge, professor of cardiology in the Medical School and executive vice president for medical affairs for Michigan Medicine, to perform several types of studies to identify inhibitors of enzymes whose activity is increased in patients with dangerously high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
  • Andrew White, research associate professor of medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy and co-director of the Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core, to build on previous work to develop compounds that can selectively inhibit G protein-coupled receptor kinase 2 (GRK2), a protein kinase that becomes over-expressed when people have heart failure.

Together, the Center for the Discovery of New Medicines and its affiliated cores help guide researchers through the many stages of the drug discovery process—from validation of a drug target to optimizing drug safety and effectiveness for human clinical trials.

The center is funded by the Office of the Provost, College of Pharmacy, Life Sciences Institute, Comprehensive Cancer Center and, at the Medical School, the Department of Internal Medicine, Department of Pathology and an endowment for the basic sciences. Its executive committee includes senior researchers and administrators from the U-M College of Pharmacy, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Medical School and Life Sciences Institute.

The deadline for the next round of grant proposals is Friday, April 20. For more information and to apply, visit cdnm.lsi.umich.edu.