Three innovative drug discovery projects targeting cancer, fungal infection and vision loss are moving forward at the University of Michigan with early-stage funding from Michigan Drug Discovery.

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 “We are excited to help advance these important projects in diverse areas of significant unmet medical need” Michigan Drug Discovery Director Peter Toogood said. “I congratulate the selected investigators and look forward to working with them to identify new therapeutic options for patients.”

Michigan Drug Discovery helps U-M faculty advance early biomedical research toward clinical translation. Researchers awarded pilot grants receive financial support to access technology and expertise in drug discovery core laboratories at the university, helping promising projects attract funding from federal agencies, foundations and industry partners.

Including these three newest projects, Michigan Drug Discovery has invested approximately $3 million in 79 drug discovery research projects across the university. In turn, these projects have gone on to secure more than $34 million in federal grants and other support.

The latest pilot grants were awarded to:

• James Moon, John Gideon Searle Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, and associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Medical School and College of Engineering, to continue his ongoing work to develop immunotherapy agents for the treatment of cancer.

Moon’s team, working with the Natural Products Discovery Core at the Life Sciences Institute, has screened more than 10,000 natural product extracts and has identified several with potent immune-stimulating activity. This new funding will provide support for further interrogation of the most interesting extracts, including structural characterization of the active component natural products, as well as scale up for additional research and development.

• Teresa O’Meara, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology in the Medical School, to complete a high-content screen for molecules that target virulence factors in pathogenic fungi.

O’Meara and her team will use sophisticated genetic methods to determine the mechanism of action of active compounds identified in the screen as a foundation for future targeted drug discovery. This approach will allow for the development of new antifungal therapeutics with lower propensity for resistance development than current antifungal drugs.

• Daniel Goldman, Bernard W. Agranoff Professor of Neuroscience, professor of biological chemistry and research professor in the Michigan Neuroscience Institute in the Medical School, to optimize a high-throughput screen for compounds that can combat the degeneration of retinal neurons, a major cause of vision loss.

This project employs a zebrafish model to detect regenerating Müller glial cells. Goldman and his team are seeking to translate results from this model to the treatment of vision loss and blindness in humans. Funding from Michigan Drug Discovery will support expansion of the capacity of the screen to allow high-throughput testing.

The Michigan Drug Discovery pilot grants — up to $75,000 each — support work in five university drug discovery core laboratories: the Center for Chemical Genomics, Center for Structural Biology and Natural Products Discovery Core in LSI, and the Pharmacokinetics Core and Vahlteich Medicinal Chemistry Core in the College of Pharmacy.

Applications for Michigan Drug Discovery pilot grants are reviewed twice annually.

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