Johns Hopkins Biologists, IOCB Chemists Team Up for Drug Discovery

Johns Hopkins Biologists, IOCB Chemists Team Up for Drug Discovery

Johns Hopkins has proven expertise in biological discovery and medicine, while the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry (IOCB) in Prague, Czech Republic, employs more than 650 chemists and biochemists. Put them together and you’ve got a team perfectly positioned to make great strides in small-molecule drug discovery.

This past spring, the Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery (JHDD) program and the IOCB formalized a translational collaboration to join forces for drug discovery. The effort will be led by Barbara Slusher, JHDD director and founder and president of the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium, an international collaborative network of more than 100 university-led drug discovery centers and programs.

JHDD is the largest integrated drug discovery program on campus, responsible for translating basic science discoveries at Johns Hopkins into novel small-molecule drug therapies. Included in Slusher’s drug discovery team are medicinal chemists, assay developers, pharmacologists, toxicologists and drug metabolism experts.

The JHDD program began as the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute’s NeuroTranslational Drug Discovery Program, which focused on the development of neuroscience discoveries. Earlier this year, the program’s team was tasked by the School of Medicine with aiding development of discoveries in all therapeutic areas, not just the brain.

But scaling up in scope required a corresponding scaling up in size, and while Johns Hopkins has plenty of biologists and specialists in the field of medicine, it doesn’t have as many chemists. The IOCB is selectively focused on chemistry and has a history of successful drug translation, including its discovery of tenofovir disoproxil fumarate, one of the most successful antiretroviral drugs on the market, Slusher says.

The Johns Hopkins-IOCB collaboration, therefore, is “a strategic marriage between their expertise and capacity and ours,” Slusher says. “This gives us the ability to pursue more ideas than we could on our own,” and it puts the collaboration’s medicinal chemistry capacity on par with that of big pharmaceutical companies.

The two institutions have been working together on various projects for some years—several joint patents have been filed—so the formal collaboration is a natural extension of the existing relationship.

In drug discovery, biologists identify conditions of the body that could benefit from a drug, and chemists develop drugs to target that condition. Biologists then test the drugs to see if the drugs inhibit the condition or not. “Drug discovery is very much a team sport,” Slusher says.

At JHDD, every week starts with a team meeting between the two institutions. “We bring biological target ideas, assays and expertise in drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. They bring medicinal chemistry expertise, and we work as a team, communicating back and forth along the path of drug discovery,” Slusher explains.

The agreement will run for five years, after which it will be renewable.

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