The Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery supports faculty drug and therapeutic development projects in areas ranging from cancer to neuroscience to obesity to infectious disease to agricultural insecticides. 

The center hosted its annual faculty workshop March 7, at which faculty presented current research to combat disease, some of which was funded by the center's seed grants.

With over 51 affiliated faculty members from five colleges, the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery (VTCDD), housed in the College of Science, promotes interdisciplinary training of graduate students and contributes to the growing drug discovery ecosystem in the commonwealth.

“The center’s mission is to assist Virginia Tech faculty members initiate drug discovery, disease biology, and drug delivery projects at Virginia Tech that lead to major collaborative federal grants and licensable technologies,” said Paul Carlier, professor of chemistry in the College of Science and director of the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery.

“It was wonderful to meet with colleagues in-person after a two-year COVID hiatus to see significant progress made and to learn how specific VTCDD investments filled critical gaps in their research. We are very grateful for the support from the Fralin Life Sciences Institute over the past 12 years.”

Researchers have transformed seed funding from the center into major R21 and R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery-affiliated faculty have received over $7.7 million in collaborative NIH funding over the last eight years. 

“Drug discovery and development require multidisciplinary collaborations among scientists with diverse expertise from different fields such as medicinal chemistry, biology, microbiology, engineering, and clinical science. The Center for Drug Discovery at Virginia Tech bridges the disciplinary divide and conducts cutting-edge, cross-disciplinary research with affiliated faculty from many departments across multiple colleges. They are working to develop candidate drugs against many medically important diseases, ranging from malaria to cancer and from cardiovascular diseases to COVID-19,” said X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor and interim executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. 

As an example, this past year, seed funding to Carlier and Mike Klemba, associate professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, led to a R21 grant in collaboration with Richard Helm, associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and director of Core Services and the Mass Spectrometry Incubator, to further their research on malaria and identify a high-value anti-malarial drug target. 

Recently, Carlier filed a world patent application for his antimalarial compounds through collaboration with Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties within LINK+LICENSE+LAUNCH.

Georgia Hodes
Assistant Professor Georgia Hodes presented her neuroscience research at the Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery faculty workshop.

Georgia Hodes, assistant professor from the School of Neuroscience, used her Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery seed grant to fund a collaborative research project with Professor Rick Davis in the Department of Chemical Engineering in the College of Engineering to develop a new tool to activate immune cells in the brain using nanoparticles. The nanoparticles can be used to test how these immune cells in different areas of the brain contribute to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Hodes went on to secure a R56 grant related to this research.

“Really innovative science happens at the intersection between different fields. The Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery meeting is a genuine benefit for the scientists at Virginia Tech. It is a great way to make connections with researchers who may have never even considered using their tools and techniques to address the questions that drive you. It provides an environment where we can learn about each other’s work and collaborate to develop better novel treatments for a variety of illnesses,” said Hodes.

The Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery was founded in 2012 under the leadership of David G. I. Kingston, professor emeritus of the Department of Chemistry. He went on to set up a Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery Screening Laboratory funded in part by the College of Science and College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to assist researchers to develop and carry out high-throughput assays. The laboratory is BSL2 certified and can do both cell-based and enzyme-based screening assays. The facility is available to the Virginia Tech community and users have access to over 40,000 chemical compounds.

Recurrent funding and additional equipment for the screening laboratory over the years has been provided by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

The Virginia Tech Center for Drug Discovery Screening Laboratory has helped Pablo Sobrado, professor in the Department of Biochemistry, receive NIH funding totaling $500,000 to further his research tackling fungi and parasitic infections and antibiotic resistance. 

“The screening laboratory is a facility that provides access to unique resources and technical expertise. They make available to the community several thousand compounds, robotic instrumentations, and help with assay design and data analysis. The results obtained from our collaboration with the screening lab has been essential for success of several grant applications,” said Sobrado.  

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