Two Michigan State University biomedical researchers have received a total of $600,000 in high-risk, high-reward Catalyst grants from the Dr. Ralph and Marian Falk Medical Research Trust.
Karen Liby, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology — a shared department of the Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine and Human Medicine — and Robert Abramovich, associate professor in the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Human Medicine and MSU AgBioResearch, will each receive $300,000 to finance their promising drug development projects.
“We would have been blown away if one of them had won, but they both won,” says Richard Neubig, director of MSU Drug Discovery and a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology. “Having two awards at MSU is exciting and validates the efforts of our faculty partners in translational research and therapeutic discovery and development.”
The Catalyst Awards provide seed funding to lay the foundation for biomedical research to treat and cure disease. If certain criteria are met, winners could apply for the Transformational Prize which provides $1 million for the project.
New potential for cancer treatment
For five years, Liby and her co-investigators Edmund Ellsworth, professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and director of the Medicinal Chemistry Facility, and Ana Mendes Leal, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, have been working to develop drugs against cancer, including lung cancer.
The new two-year Catalyst grant gives Liby’s team the opportunity to generate proof-of-concept data for MSU-42011, a compound that has shown potential for use in the treatment of cancer due to its ability modify genes involved in inflammation and cell proliferation.
The researchers plan to test the compound’s effectiveness on neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic condition that causes tumors to grow along nerves. They will test the development of the disease in mouse models, first with benign tumors and then with malignant tumors, to see if their intervention is successful.
“If MSU-42011 works on neurofibromatosis type 1, it provides the rationale for the next steps in the drug development process,” says Liby. “There are still challenges ahead. It’s a long process, but I’m hopeful. It’s obviously exciting to get to this stage.
Liby points out that these opportunities are possible thanks to the early-stage funding the researchers received from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the MSU Innovation Center, including the MSU Molecular Discovery Grant, the Innovation Hub MI-Kickstart Award, and the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Innovation. Hub. Award.
Liby says that this funding allowed her team to generate the data to justify research on neurofibromatosis type 1. She also credits MSU Drug Discovery and Neubig, and the drug discovery support infrastructure at MSU, and the “invaluable industry experience” provided by Ellsworth, his co-investigator.
“It shows how people are capable of advancing drug discovery here at MSU,” a major goal of building MSU Drug Discovery, says Neubig.
Liby, Ellsworth and Leal formed a start-up named Akeila Bio to commercialize the technology and patent applications that cover MSU-42011 and its use in cancer indications.
Patent applications filed by the MSU Innovation Center are currently pending in the United States and Europe, and Akeila Bio is working closely with the MSU Innovation Center to negotiate a license. In addition, Akeila Bio allows the Liby team to apply for other grants. The Liby lab is part of the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s Center for Applied Immunology for Education and Research.
Stop tuberculosis, one of the biggest killers
“Every 20 seconds or so, someone dies of TB,” says Abramovich, the recipient of the second seed grant. “We have something that kills the bacteria that causes TB very well, but it’s still not a medicine for use in animals or humans, so the funding will hopefully help us turn it into a medicine. .”
“That’s what the Catalyst Prize is about. This is a high-risk, high-reward grant to help us overcome an obstacle in our research.
Tuberculosis is the first fatal infectious cause in the world; he recently regained his COVID-19 status. Abramovich and his collaborators will use their Catalyst prize money to develop new drugs from a series of compounds they have previously discovered in hopes of inhibiting Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis.
The Abramovich Laboratory is studying the fundamental mechanisms of how the bacteria cause tuberculosis to jump-start the development of new drugs to combat the disease. But Abramovich is the first to stress the need for interdepartmental collaboration.
“A big reason this project came about is because of the MSU Drug Discovery organization that Dr. Neubig helped develop here,” says Abramovich. “It really almost provides us with a mini pharmaceutical company on campus. We have the people, the facilities and the technology we need to develop drugs. »
Ellsworth is also co-PI on this project. Other MSU collaborators include Angela Wilson, John A. Hannah Professor Emeritus, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives, Professor of Computational Chemistry at the College of Natural Science, Director of the MSU Center for Quantum Computing, Science, and Engineering, and 2022 President of the American Chemical Society; Teresa Krieger-Burke, DVM, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; and Matt Giletto, research associate in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
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