In early Fall 2017, the Office of Research Development announced a new Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Award opportunity for UTHSC Researchers. The new UTHSC/Southern Research (SR) CORNET Award in Drug Discovery and Development was designed to launch drug discovery programs that are based on new and unique biology of disease that will fill significant unmet medical needs.
The collaborative award, an extension of a program launched in 2016 by Vice Chancellor for Research Steven R. Goodman, PhD, links the drug discovery and development expertise of Birmingham-based Southern Research with UTHSC’s four-campus research network. To-date, the CORNET Awards program has provided over $1.1 million in funding to promising university research teams.
Glen E. Palmer, PhD, an Associate Professor in the College of Pharmacy, was selected to receive the first jointly-funded UTHSC/SR CORNET Award. Dr. Palmer was awarded $50,000 per year for up to two years, with funding for year two dependent upon progress made in year one. His project is targeting the development of an entirely new class of antifungal medications to combat a range of invasive fungal infections, which are blamed for an estimated 1.5 million deaths a year.
Dr. Palmer’s research project titled, “Targeting the Aromatic Amino Acid Synthesis Pathway to Develop a New Class of Broad Spectrum Antimicrobial Agents,” aims to develop first-in-class broad-spectrum antimicrobial agents for the treatment of what are often fatal invasive fungal infections. These infections are a serious and growing global health problem, with mortality rates often exceeding 50 percent for many fungal pathogens. Disturbingly, some of these pathogens are developing resistance to the antifungal drugs now in use.
“Mortality rates associated with invasive fungal infections have remained alarmingly high, as many of the antifungal drugs currently available are ineffective in treating these infections, or in some cases themselves are toxic to the patients,” said Dr. Palm- er. “Over the last few years, my lab has devised some novel approaches to discover new antimicrobial compounds. The collaborative effort between UTHSC and SR will provide a framework with the resources needed to apply these methods on a scale at which they can have a real impact. Additionally, it will bring the know-how and experience needed to progress the experimental therapeutics we discover towards new and improved drugs to ultimately improve the prognoses of patients with life-threatening invasive fungal infections.”
Dr. Palmer will be able to take advantage of the shared resources of SR and UTHSC to facilitate drug discovery and development efforts aimed at any disease. SR and UTHSC will jointly own intellectual property resulting from projects receiving support from the program. Outside partners will be sought for clinical development and commercialization when projects reach an advanced stage.
“I want to congratulate Dr. Glen Palmer on being our first UTHSC/SR CORNET Award recipient and a second-time CORNET awardee,” said Dr. Goodman. “The UTHSC/SR CORNET Award is focused on drug discovery and development for any human disease. We are hopeful that Dr. Palmer’s exciting work and our partnership with Southern Research will lead to a new class of medications against invasive fungal infections.”
When asked about his overall impression of the CORNET Awards program, Dr. Palmer praised the initiative for rousing the research community at UTHSC and spurring new collaborative partnerships, both internally and with external universities and institutions.
“The CORNET awards are a very exciting program that has helped energize the research community at UTHSC,” said Dr. Palmer. “It has already spawned an impressive set of new research consortium at UTHSC, and opened a whole new set of possibilities and opportunities that were perhaps not immediately apparent before its initiation. Each collaborative arrangement has leveraged the existing expertise present at UTHSC to generate entirely new research programs, not just individual grant applications. The CORNET program provides a melting pot to forge new lines of investigation, and it is that innovation that drives high impact medical research.”