Through its annual funding program, Michigan Drug Discovery has selected five projects to fund this year, including a first-of-its-kind project grant to facilitate work on the optimization of advanced lead molecules for treating pain. Project Grants are designed to support more advanced drug discovery projects and represent a shared commitment on behalf of principle investigators and MDD to a team-based, collaborative effort to advance the science over multiple years.

Four of the newly funded projects aim to identify novel biologically active molecules against important drug discovery targets.

Ashootosh Tripathi, director of the Natural Products Discovery Core and associate professor of medicinal chemistry; Christiane Wobus, associate professor of microbiology and immunology; and Osama Mohamed, postdoctoral research fellow in the Life Sciences Institute, will screen U-M’s collection of natural products to identify molecules that can inhibit two enzymes that are required for SARS-CoV-2 virus survival and proliferation.

“The uniqueness of U-M’s natural product library means that this work can only be carried out at Michigan,” said Michigan Drug Discovery Director Peter Toogood.

Markos Koutmos, assistant professor of chemistry and biophysics, and Aaron Frank, assistant professor of biophysics, will apply their combined expertise in computational and biophysical chemistry toward the discovery of novel molecules that can interrupt the bacterial life cycle. If successful, this work has the potential to identify new antibiotics to combat growing bacterial drug resistance.

Analisa DiFeo, associate professor of pathology and of obstetrics & gynecology, along with Tripathi, received an award to continue her work to find inhibitors for an RNA target to treat ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer remains a high unmet medical need and is currently the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in the United States.

Alan Smrcka, Benedict R Lucchesi Collegiate Professor of Cardiovascular Pharmacology and professor of biophysics, will continue earlier research to identify alternatives to current opioid pain medications. This work represents a unique approach to identifying pain treatments that lack the side effects of current opioid drugs, particularly those that lead to addiction.

Michigan Drug Discovery’s first project grant recipients are also focused on developing more effective pain treatments. Andy Alt, director of the Center for Chemical Genomics; John Traynor, Edward F Domino Research Professor and associate chair for research in the Department of Pharmacology; and Keith Olson, postdoctoral research fellow in the Traynor laboratory, will use the funding to further advance their work on enkephalin modifiers. This project represents an innovative approach to the discovery of pain therapies that present fewer side effects and lower potential for abuse.

Michigan Drug Discovery grants 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 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, the Rogel Cancer Center, the Medical School, and the Life Sciences Institute.

Applications for Michigan Drug Discovery pilot grants are reviewed twice annually. For more information, see MDD Funding Opportunities.


Read this article in The Record.