UC Davis neurologist Michael Rogawski has assumed the role of principal investigator of the University of California Drug Discovery Consortium, a group of researchers across five UC campuses working to translate basic science discoveries into new therapies that could benefit people worldwide.
Created in 2017 by representatives from the campuses of UC Davis, UCSF, UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UCLA, the consortium was formed in response to the changing landscape of drug discovery and development, and the view that the University of California is well positioned to contribute to the creation of treatments for important unmet medical needs.
“The pharmaceutical industry has been changing dramatically in recent years,” Rogawski said. “There are many important unmet needs for which the industry is not developing products. Large companies are doing less in the way of early-stage research, which means they are more interested in products that have undergone some degree of early-stage development.”
That shift has opened the door to university research, Rogawski explained. While many universities around the country have set up drug discovery centers and initiatives, including at the individual UC campuses, the consortium aims to leverage resources from all five campuses to create a more successful drug development entity.
“There are many skills required for drug discovery, and each campus has different kinds of resources, and no single campus has strengths in all the areas,” he said. “By combining the resources of each we can potentially create the most powerful engine for drug discovery anywhere in the country.”
The consortium was created by the Drugs, Devices, Diagnostics, Development (D4) group of University of California Biomedical Research Acceleration, Integration and Development (UC BRAID) and is supported with a 3-year UC Office of the President grant.
The consortium aims to support development of therapeutics through mentoring and providing pilot funds to investigators with promising ideas. It also works to strengthen education and training and expedite access to the core facilities across the UC system that support drug discovery. Finally, it hopes to build partnerships with industry to increase support for drug development projects, particularly in California, which has a robust and diverse drug development ecosystem.
The consortium recently hosted a symposium bringing together people interested in drug discovery from around the university, with presentations from faculty whose research is supported with seed grants of up to $50,000 from the consortium. Grant recipient Gino Cortopassi of the UC Davis College of Biological Sciences and School of Veterinary Medicine presented his project: “3D Scaffold hopping to identify novel Shc inhibitors,” describing early-stage studies to identify drugs to treat fatty liver disease and Alzheimer’s disease, two cellular degenerative conditions that lack effective treatments.
Students interested in careers in drug discovery have participated in campus workshops where they have had opportunities to work with high throughput screening robots and molecular modeling software and computers, and they have observed pharmacokinetic studies being performed in animals – all activities not typically associated with regular coursework.
Rogawski noted that California has the “most robust ecosystem” for drug discovery and development in the U.S., with major biotech firms and a diverse array of smaller companies. He added that these companies are being asked to support the consortium efforts with additional grants that could result in patents that could be licensed to industry.