News Release: Research

Aug. 11,  2009

National Cancer Institute Names Emory to Nationwide NCI Chemical Biology Consortium

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Emory University's Chemical Biology Discovery Center has been selected by SAIC-Frederick, Inc. (SAIC-F) to be part of an 11-member national consortium aimed at accelerating the discovery and development of new and innovative, targeted cancer therapies. SAIC-F is the prime contractor to the National Cancer Institute at Frederick (NCI-Frederick).

The national Chemical Biology Consortium (CBC) will bridge the gap between basic scientific investigation and clinical research supported by the NCI. The consortium will focus on unmet medical needs, such as drugs that are of low interest to the pharmaceutical industry but that could have significant benefit for patients. It is expected to bring the skills of hundreds of chemical biologists, oncologists, and synthetic and medicinal chemists to bear on particularly challenging problems in molecular oncology.

Examples of the CBC's innovative discovery pathways could include re-engineering investigators' assays into high-throughput screens; rapidly synthesizing natural products that show promise as drug targets in a particular form of cancer; making new compounds water-soluble; and accelerating the development of drug candidates with great clinical promise.

As one of three Specialized Application Centers in the NCI Consortium, the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center will focus its broad capability and special expertise on protein-protein interactions in cancer through assay development and implementation, high-throughput screening, medicinal chemistry optimization and informatics, with the participation of an intellectual property specialist.

"Recent advances in our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer have led scientists to identify oncogenes and pathways involved in tumor development that offer unprecedented opportunities for innovative drug discovery," says Haian Fu, PhD, director of the Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center and principal investigator of the Emory CBC center. Fu is professor of pharmacology, hematology & medical oncology in Emory University School of Medicine and a co-leader of the Discovery and Developmental Therapeutics Program of the Emory Winship Cancer Institute.

"This consortium will allow the NCI and the consortium members to pursue innovative strategies and dedicate resources to interrogating new signaling pathways and promising but difficult targets for the rapid discovery and development of clinically viable new compounds that might not otherwise be developed. Examples include pediatric cancer targets," says Fu.

The Emory center is anchored by investigators within the Emory Winship Cancer Institute and integrated with drug discovery and development capabilities of researchers throughout campus. Co-principal investigators of the Emory CBC Center are Fadlo Khuri, MD, deputy director for clinical and translational research in Emory Winship Cancer Institute and professor and chair of hematology & medical oncology, and Dennis Liotta, PhD, Emory professor of chemistry.

"Emory has a strong foundation of team science and collaboration, high throughput screening expertise and a solid record of success in the NIH Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network," says Liotta. "We have a team of assay biologists, screening scientists and informatics experts working side by side with medicinal chemists. Our record of drug discovery and partnerships with pharmaceutical companies show that we have the experience and expertise to serve as national leaders in cancer drug discovery."

The Georgia Cancer Coalition (GCC) is providing matching funds for the Emory CBC Center of approximately $750,000. Emory will provide other matching funds for the Center. The Georgia Research Alliance provided initial support for the Chemical Biology Discovery Center.

"We are proud and delighted that the National Cancer Institute has once again reached out to Georgia for leadership in cancer control," says William J. Todd, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Cancer Coalition. "By supporting Emory's participation in this national cancer drug discovery initiative, we are reinforcing the state's comprehensive cancer control plan goal to accelerate improvements in cancer treatment. This designation brings us yet one step closer to making Georgia one of the nation's premier states for cancer control."

"As a molecular oncologist and a cancer clinician, I am very pleased with this opportunity for Emory's involvement in a national NCI consortium to speed drug discovery," says Khuri. "This is a very exciting time for cancer research, and I am optimistic this consortium will result in significant research advances that soon will benefit patients with particularly challenging types of cancer."

As a member of the national consortium, the Emory center will join forces with the NCI and other national centers for project-team based accelerated cancer drug discovery operations from target identification, high throughput screening, all the way through clinical trials.  It will be funded through a contractual agreement mechanism with the NCI.

In 2005 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Emory $9 million in the pilot phase of the National Molecular Libraries Screening Center Network (MLSCN).  The network uses high-tech screening methods on huge libraries of small molecular compounds to identify probes as promising molecular research tools.

Emory's CBC selection by the NCI built on Emory's already established Chemical Biology Discovery Center and its experience in MLSCN.  The Emory Chemical Biology Discovery Center is an interdisciplinary collaboration among research departments in Emory School of Medicine and Emory College. The Center also uses high-throughput technologies to screen libraries of hundreds of thousands of small molecule compounds against promising molecular targets identified by Emory scientists.

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