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Dunn Foundation's $2.7 Million Grant Will Boost Drug Discovery
Texas Gulf Coast institutions will translate basic research discoveries into treatments for human diseases
The John S. Dunn Foundation has made a gift of $2.7 million to support the acquisition of sophisticated robotics and large collections of chemical compounds and molecular reagents to support drug discovery research by investigators from six Gulf Coast institutions.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will serve as the project's lead institution on behalf of the Gulf Coast Consortia (GCC), a collaborative alliance for interdisciplinary bioscience training and research composed of Baylor College of Medicine, the UT M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Rice University, the University of Houston, the UT Medical Branch at Galveston and the UT Health Science Center.
"This special gift from the Dunn Foundation will propel the research within our GCC institutions forward in new ways and open novel experimental avenues to our investigators across the region," said Kathleen Matthews, Ph.D., GCC Oversight Committee chair and dean of Natural Sciences at Rice University. "We are deeply appreciative of the on-going support of the Dunn Foundation in our GCC research programs."
The program will jump-start the work of scientists at all of the participating GCC institutions by helping to provide the infrastructure, equipment, genomics libraries and seed grants necessary to speed new drug discoveries.
"This support from the Dunn Foundation will enable the Gulf Coast Consortia to put in place an academic drug discovery program that will speed the translation of basic research discoveries into new avenues for the treatment of human diseases," said UT Health Science Center Executive Vice President for Research Peter J. A. Davies M.D., Ph.D. Davies also is director of the John S. Dunn Gulf Coast Consortium for Chemical Genomics, as the program will be known.
"Such collaborative initiatives as these are helping to bring about a major transformation in the framework for biological and biomedical research in our region that will serve as a national model for the research teams of the future," Davies said.
The health science center also will be home to the hub laboratory for the drug discovery program, where state-of-the-art robotics, instrumentation and computer technology will be employed for rapid screening of chemical compounds to identify drugs that may act on the molecular "targets" known to be associated with specific diseases.
The screening center will be located on the third floor of the UT Medical School at Houston's new $80.5-million research building, now under construction at 6431 Fannin St.
Five GCC satellite centers each will receive funding to purchase robotics and detection systems for compatible research projects at GCC partner campuses.
The Dunn Foundation award includes $500,000 in seed funding to support innovative, early-stage pilot projects, particularly from young investigators who are doing the cutting-edge groundwork needed for developing biomedical treatments that will reverse or prevent diseases.
These pilot grants for "Discovery Projects" will enable researchers to gather the preliminary data required for successful applications for peer-reviewed funding and publication.
Academic drug discovery programs like the GCC's seek to offset research-and-development expenditures by the pharmaceutical industry ($35 billion in 2005) by involving public-sector players more in the early phases of drug discovery. Ultimately, academic scientists and researchers may shorten the time needed for drug discoveries, develop truly new drugs for a broader range of diseases and lower the costs of pharmaceuticals so savings can be passed on to consumers and health care providers.
"It is a growing trend among top-tier research universities across the nation to establish academic drug discovery programs that accelerate the translation of basic research discoveries into the development of new therapies," said Executive Vice President for Molecular Medicine and Genetics C. Thomas Caskey, M.D., chairman of the GCC Chemical Genomics Executive Committee.
"We believe that the leadership of our regional Gulf Coast universities in biological and biomedical research both in Texas and nationally will benefit greatly from a comparable commitment to this emerging area of research," Caskey said.
By David R. Bates, Institutional Advancement