Center to Drive New Drugs from Colorado University Research Discoveries

Colorado State University is launching a center that will aid university researchers across the state in their efforts to discover new medications to treat human and animal illnesses. The Colorado Center for Drug Discovery received $2.25 million from the state’s office of Economic Development and International Trade. The funds for the center were allocated through the Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant program.
The center will be based at Colorado State University but is part of a statewide initiative to foster bioscience commercialization infrastructure in Colorado.

Drug discovery research is an extraordinarily complex and long-term investment in research and development that requires a wide range of disciplines to optimize a compound that looks promising in initial research into an actual medication that can be used by a patient. The goal of the center is to provide a framework to advance drug discovery research by bridging some gaps in the technically challenging process.
“University faculty do innovative biomedical research,” said Joe Guiles, who will co-direct the center at Colorado State. “However, linking together the vast array of research expertise found within Colorado’s research universities for a unified purpose is a challenge in an academic setting. The center will link key research expertise to create early stage discovery projects that identify molecules with proven therapeutic potential, and provide specific resources to make it happen.”

New research collaborations with faculty labs across the state will be forged into virtual teams through center sponsorship. The center will provide incentives for collaboration through access to funding for medicinal chemistry and pharmacokinetic research, two essential components required to optimize for drug-like properties of candidate compounds.

The center’s pharmacokinetics unit partners with the University of Colorado Cancer Center’s Pharmacology Core located at Colorado State University. Pharmacokinetics is the portion of research that looks at whether new drugs reach the disease tissue and circulate in the body at levels that are effective and safe. Medicinal chemistry will be provided through center-sponsored collaborations linking faculty doing organic synthetic chemistry research and biology or clinical faculty doing research on novel drug targets.

The center also will include a chemical library, which is an inventory of compounds that helps researchers identify compounds that may work against diseases. The library provides a starting point, or a lead compound, for the long road of developing a potential medication.

Finally, an important aspect of the center will be to provide access to former pharmaceutical industry scientists who will serve as consultants to the emerging drug discovery teams. These experts will provide context through lessons learned in industry to guide drug discovery projects within the center. They also will provide exceptional educational opportunities for university faculty, postdoctoral fellows and students to learn about pharmaceutical research and development technology and process.

“The creation of this center will arm researchers from across the state with resources they need to develop new drugs to treat unmet medical needs,” said Terry Opgenorth, co-director of the center. “It also will create jobs as those discoveries move forward in the development process. Full development through Federal Drug Agency approval and ultimate commercialization will require partnering with a biopharma company or creation of a new company around the technology. In either case, the bioscience economy in Colorado benefits. This center – called C2D2 — will enable researchers here in Colorado to have a global impact on the health of people everywhere.”

Colorado’s research universities are a hotbed of medical discovery and innovation with a growing national and international reputation for excellence. The center will create an important new mechanism for ensuring that promising research is developed to its full potential, and that economic opportunity is created for Colorado and its universities. Other universities such as Columbia, Vanderbilt, University of Wisconsin and Emory University also are working to amplify their research into important new medical products, leading to significant partnerships with the biopharma industry and generation of new startup companies.

“C2D2 is an important component of bioscience infrastructure investment that we believe will provide significant economic development opportunities in the state” said Don Marostica, director of Colorado’s Office of Economic Development and International Trade. “It, and the other Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant Program components, uniquely position Colorado as a state that is proactively cultivating an economic environment attractive to start-up companies in the exciting field of biomedical research, an area we anticipate will be an important contributor to growing jobs and securing Colorado’s economic future.”

The center will be directed by seasoned biopharmaceutical leaders Opgenorth and Guiles. The two provide leadership to the CSU’s Supercluster structure within the CSU Research Foundation and its subsidiary, CSU Ventures Inc. Guiles is chief operating officer of MicroRx, the business development arm of the Infectious Disease Supercluster and Opgenorth is chief operating officer of NeoTREX, the business development arm of the Cancer Supercluster. Each has more than 18 years of drug discovery experience in the biopharma industry as scientists and executives prior to joining CSU Ventures.

The Bioscience Discovery Evaluation Grant program was created by legislation co-sponsored by Northern Colorado’s representatives Jim Riesberg and Bob Bacon.
The university’s new Research Innovation Center building, which is schedule for completion in April 2010, will provide a laboratory and chemical library space for the center. In addition, 17,000 square feet of the building will be managed as a biotech incubator to support startup companies, such as those that may come out of center-sponsored projects.