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Purdue to Accelerate Drug Discovery, Development

Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Last Updated: Monday, September 16, 2013
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Purdue Center for Drug Discovery adds to Purdue's strengths and the capacity to translate basic research into life-changing treatments.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels has highlighted how the center will create an innovative research and teaching environment to stimulate discovery and the translation of basic research into new ways to diagnose and treat disease.

"Here, as in other areas, we will seek to reinforce existing excellence," Daniels said. "Purdue has the proven talent, knowledge and drive to create new treatments and tools that improve health worldwide. Purdue researchers are already hard at work finding the connection between the molecular basis of disease and compounds to change the course of disease. Through Purdue's Center for Drug Discovery, we will accelerate the rate of drug discovery to move revelations from the lab to commercialization and then to the million of patients who need hope and relief."

The Purdue Center for Drug Discovery supports more than 100 faculty in six colleges and its research will focus on four disease categories: cancer; diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular; immune and infectious disease; and neurological disorders and trauma.

Joining Daniels at the forum were Philip Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and inaugural director of the center, and Timothy Ratliff, professor and the Robert Wallace Miller Director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research. Ratliff, Low and directors of other Purdue centers with research focused on the disease targets will meet regularly to share discoveries and ensure a unified, efficient progression of the research.

"This new Purdue center will advance the level of research among our faculty and the educational experience of our research-driven and entrepreneurially focused undergraduate and graduate students," Low said. "It will encourage collaboration. It will bring people and their distinctive talents together, accelerating our rates of discovery and translation. And it sends the message to the world that Purdue University is committed to excellence in the field of drug discovery and development."

Purdue has strengths along all of the points of the drug discovery pipeline, including a premier structural biology group with a track record of discovering new targets to block disease, a chemistry department that has produced two Nobel laureates and is a leader in structure-based drug design, and top-ranked engineering and pharmacy programs, Ratliff said.

"Purdue has all the fundamentals and a history of getting things done - including more than 30 compounds at various stages of clinical development," he said. "If we build on this strength and put infrastructure in place to overcome the remaining challenges, the university can bring many more potentially life-changing or life-saving drugs to the clinic."

In addition, 14 core units are in place to provide shared resources for analysis, screening, synthesis and testing of potential therapeutic compounds, he said.

"We don't want any potential new treatment to fail because there isn't a resource to move it forward," Ratliff said. "Perhaps the professor who made the discovery doesn't have the expertise for the next step in the process. We want to make it easy for one professor to pass the torch to another and to draw on the reserves of our talented research staff to finish the marathon of drug discovery in record time."

The new center will help increase funding from federal agencies and industry, Low said. In a time of reduced overall federal support, investment in drug discovery remains strong.

Purdue also will be in a unique position to capitalize on a trend by major pharmaceutical companies to outsource research and development to universities and biotechnology firms, he said. The industry spent $9.4 billion in outsourcing its R&D in 2011, Kalorama Information reports.

"Purdue is among an elite handful of universities that are very productive in this area, and we are well-positioned to partner with the pharmaceutical industry and become a world leader in drug discovery," Low said.

Estimates also show that it costs approximately $1.4 billion and takes 10 years to bring a new prescription drug to the market, and pharmaceutical companies want to be confident in a drug candidate before pursuing it. That means compounds already through early testing and validation are much more competitive, Low said.

"Taking a discovery further along the drug development path, which is what this center is all about, is much more lucrative for the researcher and the university," he said. "The greatest return on research investment is right after establishing a 'proof of principle,' and taking a discovery through to this point means the difference between thousands and millions of dollars for the university. These revenues represent money that can be put back into discovery research and, thereby, further enhance our potential to change the world."

Other goals of the Purdue Center for Drug Discovery, which will be a part of Discovery Park and located in a state-of-the-art facility opening next spring in the Life and Health Sciences Park on the south end of campus, include:

* The center advances Purdue's primary mission to move discoveries from the laboratories to benefit citizens. This will be accomplished as Purdue researchers translate discoveries into the clinic, and then into commercial use, and through training courses in the development of startup companies, all of which will contribute to the state's economy.
* Advancing its role as a research leader in this area, Purdue becomes even more competitive in gaining larger research grants from state and federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, and major foundations and philanthropic organizations.
* Cutting-edge facilities are a magnet for attracting leading faculty and top-tier students. This also accelerates efforts to develop a curriculum and a learning culture that focuses on all aspects of the drug discovery pipeline - from discovery and development to the patenting of technology and processes that can be commercialized for greater and immediate impact.

"Students will get to experience all parts of the drug discovery process and see what it takes to get all the way through," Ratliff said. "Our students also will have the opportunity to be trained for careers in very popular and in-demand areas."

More details on the initiatives will be provided by Daniels throughout the fall semester. The initiatives were selected and developed over several months of work that involved deans, faculty and others at the university. Purdue's trustees also have reviewed and given support for the program.

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