Michigan Drug Discovery awards grants to six new projects

August 6, 2019  //  FOUND IN: News

Michigan Drug Discovery has awarded early-stage funding for three new drug discovery projects by faculty across U-M.

The U-M program will also provide project management support and mentoring assistance for three early-stage cancer projects funded by the Rogel Cancer Center.

In total, more than $322,000 was committed in this round of funding, bringing the total number of awards funded or supported by Michigan Drug Discovery to 72.

The new academic drug discovery projects in this funding cycle include innovative approaches to treat fibrotic diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, diverticulitis, autoimmune diseases and several forms of cancer.

“The wide therapeutic range for the projects funded in this last round demonstrates the depth and breadth of biosciences research at the university,” said Michigan Drug Discovery Director Vincent Groppi. “Michigan Drug Discovery is working closely with all of our campus partners to advance clinical translation of new therapeutics.”

Michigan Drug Discovery supports faculty from across the university in developing promising biomedical research toward clinical translation. Researchers awarded the pilot grants receive financial support and access to the technology and expertise of drug discovery core laboratories at the university, helping to advance promising projects to the point they can attract more substantial funding from federal agencies, foundations and industry partners.

Together, the center and its affiliated core laboratories provide mentorship and help guide researchers through the many stages of the drug discovery process — from validating a drug target to optimizing drug safety and effectiveness for human clinical trials.

The latest pilot grants were awarded to:

  • Daniel Lawrence, Ph.D., ($75,000), Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of Basic Research in Cardiovascular Medicine at the U-M Medical School, to screen natural product extracts to discover novel therapeutics for treating fibrotic diseases. Early data suggest that natural products may be effective in inhibiting the activity of a protein that plays a critical regulatory role in fibrosis.
  • Andrew Lieberman, M.D., Ph.D., ($54,847), Gerald Abrams Collegiate Professor of Pathology at the medical school, to screen for new small molecules for treating neurodegenerative diseases, particularly spinal and bulbar muscular atrophy. The research team is pursuing a novel strategy to degrade the disease-causing protein by stabilizing the chaperone protein in a form that allows the former to be cleared.
  • Lillias Maguire, M.D., ($40,000), assistant professor of surgery at the medical school, to carry out a high-throughput screen to find novel chemical matter to treat diverticulitis. Maguire and her team have already identified a protein that exerts a protective effect against diverticulitis, and the goal of this study is to find compounds to enhance this activity.

The early-stage cancer grants were awarded to:

  • Analisa DiFeo, Ph.D., ($7,500), associate professor of pathology and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the medical school, to carry out a pilot screen to identify microRNA-targeting small molecules used to treat ovarian cancer. DiFeo’s team discovered that one particular microRNA correlates with poor overall survival in ovarian cancer, and they are working on finding novel compounds that regulate its expression.
  • Mats Ljungman, Ph.D., ($70,145), professor of radiation oncology at the medical school, to screen for small molecules that target the RNA exosome, a protein complex that degrades damaged or unwanted RNA. In many cancers, the RNA exosome activity is compromised, leading to accumulation of large amounts of damaged DNA. The aim of this project is to identify inhibitors for the RNA exosome as a new cancer therapeutic.
  • James Moon, Ph.D., ($75,000), John Gideon Searle Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy, to screen natural product extracts and identify defined natural products to help activate the innate immune system as an anti-tumor response. The goal is to find molecules that activate the immune system in response to the release of DNA from cancer cells.

This marks the 12th 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 six projects, Michigan Drug Discovery has invested more than $2.3 million in drug discovery research. In turn, these projects 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 Michigan Drug Discovery pilot grants — up to $75,000 each — support work in five university drug discovery core laboratories: the Center for Chemical Genomics, Center for Structural Biology and Natural Products Discovery Core in the U-M Life Sciences Institute; and the Pharmacokinetics Core and Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core in the College of Pharmacy.

Michigan Drug Discovery is funded by the Office of the Provost, College of Pharmacy, Life Sciences Institute, Rogel Cancer Center and at the U-M Medical School, the Department of Internal Medicine, Department of Pathology and the Endowment for the Basic Sciences. Michigan Drug Discovery’s Executive Committee includes senior researchers and administrators from the U-M College of Pharmacy, Rogel Cancer Center, Medical School and Life Sciences Institute.

The next funding cycle for Michigan Drug Discovery will open in early August with submissions due Oct. 11. For more information and to apply, visit drugdiscovery.umich.edu. The pre-submssion form to schedule a proposal consultation can accessed here.

Website: http://drugdiscovery.umich.edu