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Grants from Indiana CTSI fuel search for potential new drugs


INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute recently awarded more than $100,000 to researchers seeking to identify new therapeutic agents for potential development as future drugs. The funded projects will target conditions such as cancer, drug-resistant infections and chronic pain.

The grants are the first from the Indiana Drug Discovery Alliance, a central access point for statewide drug discovery and development resources established this year by the Molecular Therapeutics Program of the Indiana CTSI. The institute is a National Institutes of Health-funded collaboration of Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame.

The objective of the Indiana Drug Discovery Alliance is to promote and support promising early-stage drug-discovery research and facilitate collaborative translational research partnerships. With drug discovery expertise from each of the Indiana CTSI partner universities as well as Eli Lilly and Co., the alliance’s advisory committee is identifying complementary expertise and critical resource facilities across these institutions.

“Each of the projects funded under the inaugural Indiana Drug Discovery Alliance grants were chosen for their high potential to generate new intellectual property and yield discoveries that advance the fight against disease,” said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Indiana CTSI and associate vice president for university clinical affairs at IU. “Scientists are increasingly asked to present strong evidence for the effectiveness of proposed new therapies before they even begin to reach out to public or private partners for funds. We want to provide the boost needed to generate evidence that attracts external support and results in new products that save lives in the near future.”

Grant recipients were chosen from more than 30 applicants. Many projects involve the rapid analysis of tens of thousands of potential chemical compounds that have a powerful effect on some aspect of the disease under investigation. These compounds can then be marked for additional investigation and potential development as drugs.

The 2014 Indiana Drug Discovery Alliance grant recipients are:

  • Theodore Cummins, Ph.D., professor and interim chair of pharmacology and toxicology at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Cummins’ project relates to chronic pain management.
  • Chang-Deng Hu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue University. Dr. Hu’s project relates to cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma as well as cancers of the breast, lung, colon and rectum, ovaries, skin, and brain.
  • Julia C. Van Kessel, Ph.D., assistant research scientist in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry at IU Bloomington. Dr. Kessel’s project relates to antibiotic-resistant infections. Laura C. Brown, Ph.D., of the Department of Chemistry at IU Bloomington, is a collaborator on the project.
  • Tao Lu, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Lu’s project relates to colon cancer.
  • Samy Meroueh, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine and a member of the IU Simon Cancer Center. Dr. Meroueh’s project relates to the breast cancer. Clark D. Wells, Ph.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, is a collaborator on the project.
  • Maria Teresa Rizzo, M.D., associate investigator at the Methodist Research Institute and an adjunct assistant professor of medicine and of pharmacology and toxicology at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Rizzo’s project relates to glioblastoma, a highly aggressive form of brain cancer. Collaborators on the project are Mingji Dai, Ph.D., professor of organic chemistry at Purdue; and Karen Pollok, Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, and Aaron Cohen-Gadol, M.D., associate professor of neurological surgery, both at the IU School of Medicine.
  • Stanley Spinola, M.D., professor and chair of microbiology and immunology at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Spinola’s project relates to drug-resistant bacteria, such as those responsible for urinary tract infections, pneumonia, sepsis and sexually transmitted disease.
  • Jingwu Xie, Ph.D., Jonathan and Jennifer Simmons Professor of Pediatrics and a member of the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research at the IU School of Medicine. Dr. Xie’s project relates to pancreatic cancer.

Scientific consultants for the Indiana Drug Discovery Alliance include Jaipal Singh, Ph.D., and Zhong-Yin Zhang, Ph.D., of the IU School of Medicine; Yvonne Y. Lai, Ph.D., and Michael Nieuwenhze, Ph.D., of IU Bloomington; Timothy Ratliff, Ph.D., and Andrew Mesecar, Ph.D., of Purdue; Richard Taylor, Ph.D., of Notre Dame; Scott M. Sheehan, Ph.D., of Eli Lilly and Co.; and Jay McGill, Ph.D., of Eli Lilly and Biocrossroads. The team will track the progress of each of the funded projects and offer advice and support to the principal investigators.

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute is a statewide collaboration of Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame to facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into new patient treatments in Indiana and beyond. It was established in 2008 with a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health totaling $60 million (TR000006, TR000163 and TR000162), with additional support from the state, the three member universities and public and private partners. It is a member of the national network of over 60 CTSA-funded organizations across the country.