New Grants and Mentorship Projects Announced

Posted on: Wed, 2017-04-05 11:50   By: Ian Demsky


ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan Center for the Discovery of New Medicines has awarded funding for four new drug discovery projects by U-M faculty aimed at fighting cancer, sickle cell disease and creating new, non-addictive painkillers.

The awards range from $9,000 to up to $50,000. And grants from this round of funding, some of which are variable, could total up to $117,000.

For the first time, the center is also providing formal mentoring support to two promising, early-stage cancer drug discovery projects, which it hopes to further support in the future with grant funding.

“These projects are great examples of the synergies that can happen at a top-tier research university — we can take a faculty member with deep expertise in cancer biology and connect them with a researcher with a strong background in the tools and techniques of structural biology needed to advance their projects,” says Vincent Groppi, Ph.D., the center’s director. “The CDNM Executive Committee was very excited about the caliber of projects in this round of funding.”

The center awarded grants to:

  • Tomasz Cierpicki, Ph.D., an associate professor of pathology in the Medical School, to conduct high-throughput screening to identify potential inhibitors of a protein known as Gas41 (glioma-amplified sequence 41). Silencing the Gas41 gene impairs the growth of cancer in cell cultures and animal models.
  • James Engel, Ph.D., a professor of cell and developmental biology in the Medical School, for development of a chemical inhibitor for an enzyme known as LSD1 (lysine specific demethylase 1) in order to stimulate production of healthy hemoglobin as a potential treatment for sickle cell disease and related disorders.
  • John Traynor, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology in the Medical School, to conduct high-throughput screening for compounds that target opioid receptors at a new binding site, which could sidestep the addictive qualities and other downsides of prescription narcotics.
  • Ryan Wilcox, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of hematology/oncology and internal medicine in the Medical School, to conduct high-throughput screening to identify compounds that can inhibit signaling by a receptor known as CSF-1R (colony-stimulating factor-1 receptor), which is aberrantly expressed in half of all T-cell lymphomas.

Additionally, the center will provide mentoring assistance for two early-stage cancer projects:

  • Mukesh Nyati, Ph.D., an associate professor of radiation oncology in the Medical School, is looking for novel inhibitors of a cell-surface receptor called EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) that can block a paired subunit, called a dimer. The hope is that the approach can overcome shortcoming seen with traditional kinase inhibitors.
  • Dipankar Ray, Ph.D., an assistant professor of radiation oncology in the Medical School, is focused on attacking the stability of KRAS-driven cancer cells. Patients whose tumors have KRAS (Kirsten rat sarcoma viral oncogene homolog) mutations have poor prognosis and limited treatment options.

The Center for the Discovery of New Medicines supports faculty from across the university in developing promising biomedical research toward commercialization. The grants provide researchers with access to the technology and expertise of four 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.

The core labs include the Center for Chemical Genomics and Center for Structural Biology at the Life Sciences Institute, and the Pharmacokinetics Core and Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core at the College of Pharmacy.

Together, the center 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’s executive committee includes top researchers from the U-M College of Pharmacy, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Medical School and Life Sciences Institute.

Since its establishment in 2012, the center has awarded 45 grants totaling more than $1.25 million. Several projects have already gone on to receive additional external funding, commercial licensing and patent protection.

The deadline for the next round of grant proposals is Friday, November 10.