Endowed gift promotes drug research

William K

Carolyn Hutyra | Thursday, March 20, 2014

This month, the William K. Warren Foundation donated $3.5 million to Notre Dame toward the creation of the Warren Family Research Center for Drug Discovery and Development, according to a University press release.

Richard Taylor, associate vice president for research and professor of chemistry and biochemistry, said the funding from the Warren Foundation will promote medicinal chemistry and chemical biology research at the University. 

 “The funding will allow us to complement our current faculty with several additional hires, expanding our research expertise in areas directed toward the discovery of treatments for neurological diseases as well as the search for new antibiotics,” Taylor said.

Gregory Crawford, dean of the College of Science, said creation of the center has already started with the recruitment of faculty this semester.

“The department of chemistry and biochemistry already has an extraordinary faculty in the area of medicinal chemistry in place and was the primary reason for attracting such a large effort to Notre Dame,” Crawford said. “So the formation of the new center will add significantly to an already strong program at Notre Dame in the College of Science.”

Crawford said biomedical research stays true to the University’s mission “to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice” because the end goal is improving global health.

“Our scientific goals are simple — advance scientific knowledge through discovery at the highest level, and translate those efforts into medicine and therapies for health and well being of others,” he said.

Crawford said additional hires and the establishment of core facilities will also help strengthen research infrastructure.

“The Center will not have a dedicated building, but due to its interdisciplinary nature, it will certainly be suitable for new space being planned at Notre Dame designed to bring together researchers from different disciplines,” he said.

Funding will also support the Chemical Synthesis & Drug Discovery Facility, directed by Taylor, which provides the Notre Dame community with synthetic chemistry services for research areas such as drug discovery and material science, Taylor said. According to a University press release, the Facility will organize chemical compounds created through research into the ND Chemical Compound Collection.

“While these compounds are typically produced for a specific research purpose, their inclusion in a broader collection will allow them to be screened for activities in other areas,” Taylor said. “The expertise within the facility will promote the collaborations and can follow-up with any exciting hits we get and may lead to the discovery of new drugs.”

Crawford said the College of Science has shown promise over the years in the area of medicinal chemistry dealing with the discovery of new drugs. Notre Dame scientists have identified lead compounds for indications such as cancer, infectious disease and rare diseases, which outside companies have licensed in an effort to take the drugs into clinical trials.

He said one example involves Paul Helquist’s work on identification of a drug compound for the fatal childhood disease, Niemann Pick disease, type C (NPC).

“This rare disease took the lives of three of the four grandchildren of our famous and beloved coach, Ara Parseghian,” Crawford said. “Professor Helquist and his colleagues and students worked closely with the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation in search of a better understanding and a possible treatment or cure for NPC.”

According to Crawford, this particular study will enter clinical trials this year.

“This is another example of where our science contributes to the mission of Notre Dame — we are fighting for the underdog in this case — a cohort of a few hundred to a thousand children and their families, who are desperate for a treatment or cure to save their children,” Crawford said.

Crawford said although a large number of students in the College of Science already participate in undergraduate research, this center will create additional opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

“We are all excited about our future and the role we will play in the scientific and medical community, expanding upon our work in neurodegenerative diseases, rare diseases, cancer, antibodies and tuberculosis with passionate students, incredible faculty and wonderful and committed partners in the Warren Foundation,” Crawford said.