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Roche Funds Drug Discovery Projects at UC San Diego


  • Debra Kain

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  • Debra Kain

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The new UC San Diego-Roche Extending Innovation Network (EIN) program has been launched with selection of its first three research projects at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. The UC San Diego-Roche EIN program, which was formalized in June 2011, aims to accelerate the discovery of new drug therapies through research innovation at the interface of industry and academia. The program is slated to grow in the coming years as additional rounds of proposals are solicited.   

Under this partnership, faculty-initiated research projects are selected for funding from proposals solicited campus-wide on a planned bi-annual basis. The program is headed by a joint steering committee comprising two Roche researchers and two UC San Diego faculty members, Joan Heller Brown, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, and Michael K. Gilson, MD, PhD, professor of pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences and director of UCSD’s new Drug Discovery Institute.

“We are very pleased about this exciting and innovative partnership, which strengthens UCSD Health Sciences’ strategic goal of broadly advancing our programs in drug discovery,” said David A. Brenner, MD, vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the UCSD School of Medicine. 

The EIN program allows Roche to have the first look at in-licensing opportunities that match the company’s strategy, and is designed to further strengthen the cooperation between university research and pharmaceutical development.   Other academic institutions that are partners with Roche in the EIN program include Harvard University and UC San Francisco.

The three two-year projects selected in this initial round will use innovative molecular technologies recently developed at UC San Diego to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of neuropsychiatric disease and leukemia, with the ultimate goal of developing effective new treatments.

“This funding will help provide important new opportunities to translate basic discoveries and leading-edge technologies from UC San Diego’s research laboratories into needed therapies for patients – an effort being spearheaded by our new Drug Discovery Institute,” said Palmer Taylor, PhD, associate vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.

The three projects selected for this initial round of funding are as follows.

Xiang-Dong Fu, PhD, professor of cellular and molecular medicine and member of the UCSD Institute of Genomic Medicine, in collaboration with Michael G. Rosenfeld, MD, will use cutting-edge genomic and RNA-based approaches to help identify new potential therapeutic targets.  Coupled with a new gene-signature approach, this research project could identify compounds that will ultimately lead to the discovery of new neuropsychiatric drugs.

Paul Insel, PhD, professor of pharmacology and medicine, will investigate the expression of the GPCR family of receptors on the surface of cells from patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). There are limited successful therapies for CLL, which is the most common form of adult leukemia and can progress to a very aggressive form that is rapidly lethal.  Insel seeks to identify new targets for drugs to improve the course of this disease.

Gene Yeo, PhD, assistant professor of cellular and molecular medicine, will apply innovative technologies to detect abnormal patterns of RNA in neurons and discover molecules that reverse these defects. This work has promise for the treatment of a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders.

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