The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy is the first U.S. hub of a worldwide research network dedicated to defining the structure of proteins and freely sharing its discoveries with the scientific community to drive the development of new therapeutics.
UNC joins Oxford University, the University of Toronto, and the State University of Campinas in São Paulo, Brazil, as a core laboratory of the Structural Genomics Consortium, an international, not-for-profit, public-private partnership that carries out basic science in drug discovery and makes its research output available to the scientific community with no strings attached.
“The SGC identifies new drug discovery targets and places its research into the public domain for companies and entrepreneurs to use freely,” said Aled Edwards, Ph.D., director and CEO of the Structural Genomics Consortium. “We’re delighted to welcome UNC as our first site in the U.S. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is an outstanding institution, and their involvement in the SGC clearly signals their intent to speed the creation of new medicines for patients.”
The SGC-UNC will be funded initially by the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, which was created by Fred Eshelman’s historic $100 million gift to the pharmacy school in 2014.
The new Structural Genomics Consortium group at UNC will initially focus on the kinome, a family of approximately 500 proteins called kinases. Kinases are enzymes that play a significant role in activating and deactivating other proteins that control a multitude of biological processes. The human kinome is an amazingly productive area for drug discovery, said Tim Willson, Ph.D., chief scientist of the SGC-UNC.
“Identifying the best molecular approach to treating disease is perhaps the greatest challenge in drug discovery,” Willson said. “The majority of kinases in the human genome are woefully understudied yet they are implicated in many diseases, including cancer. There is a huge opportunity here.”
Only about 50 kinases have been studied in depth. Knowledge of those 50 kinases has led to the creation of 26 drugs, 25 of which are cancer treatments.
UNC has already seen success leveraging the SGC’s work with protein kinases. Researchers at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer center identified mer kinase as an enzyme that plays a role in various forms of cancer. They shared their finding with scientists at the School’s Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery
The pharmaceutical scientists in the center used structural information about mer made available by the SGC to rapidly design and synthesize new small molecules that inhibited mer activity in human cancer cells. Their work resulted in a spinoff company, Meryx, which was created in 2013 to develop new therapeutics based on the mer kinase inhibitor created at UNC.
“The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy knows firsthand the value of the work done by the SGC, and we are extremely proud to become a part of it,” said Robert Blouin, Pharm.D., dean of the School. “This investment establishes UNC as the world leader in kinase chemical biology. We are now at the center of a global network of activity that will generate many opportunities for drug discovery with protein kinases as targets for breakthrough medicines.”
Structural Genomics Consortium
The Structural Genomics Consortium was formed in 2004 to map the structure of proteins and has grown into an organization that supplies a suite of tools to enable biomedical research, including recombinant antibodies, chemical probes, and novel functional human disease assays. The SGC accelerates research in new areas by making all its research output available to the scientific community with no strings attached as well as by creating an open collaborative network of scientists.
- For more on the SGC-UNC’s work with kinases, read “For UNC scientists, open source is the way forward” by Bryan Behrenshausen.
- Follow the SGC-UNC on Twitter at @PKISandTell.