6th UF Drug Discovery Symposium

April 15-16, 2024

Join us at the 6th UF Drug Discovery Symposium

The 2024 symposium will be held at the Hilton UF Conference Center in Gainesville, Florida on April 15-16, 2024

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Message from the Hosts

Dr. Hendrik Luesch

UF College of Pharmacy

Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair, Department of Medicinal Chemistry; Director of Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development

Tom Kodadek Headshot

The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology

Thomas Kodadek, Ph.D.

Professor of Chemistry

Dear Colleagues,

It is our great pleasure to welcome you to the 6th UF Drug Discovery Symposium (UFDDS) to be held this year in Gainesville, Florida at the UF Hilton Conference Center on April 15 & 16. In response to the success of the previous mostly biennial symposia in Gainesville and Jupiter, and the positive resonance to the meeting held in Jupiter last year, UF has urged us to consider hosting this event annually.

The UF Drug Discovery Symposium, established in 2016, draws around 200 participants to Gainesville from all Florida research institutions. Last year the Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development (CNPD3) in Gainesville and The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation and Technology in Jupiter joined forces to celebrate the integration of the Jupiter campus as a new research arm of UF Health by showcasing the combined UF drug discovery expertise at the UF Scripps and the main campus which made it more UF-centric. The 2024 symposium features again participants from several major research institutions across Florida. Highlights will be keynote presentations by global leaders in drug discovery.

The symposium will cover a broad range of topics under five sessions on Induced Proximity Drug Discovery, Infectious Diseases, Natural Products and Synthetic Biology, AI-driven Drug Discovery, and Synthesis driven Drug Discovery. We warmly welcome our five keynote speakers: Alessio Ciulli (University of Dundee, UK), Paul Hergenrother (University of Illinois Urbana‐Champaign), Brian Blagg (University of Notre Dame), David Koes (University of Pittsburgh) and Wendy Young (Former SVP, Drug Discovery, Genentech) who are key opinion leaders in these fields. In addition to several of our UF faculty, this year we have invited speakers from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina (Emory, UNC, UCF, and FSU).  The program will feature a poster session and two sessions for short talks by graduate students and postdoctoral trainees selected from abstracts submitted.

We hope you all enjoy the 6th UFDDS and use the opportunity to connect with friends and colleagues. 

Hendrik Luesch & Tom Kodadek  


UF Hilton Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th St., Gainesville, FL 32607

Schedule of Events

April 15, 2024


Time Session Speaker
7:30 – 8:30 a.m. Registration and Breakfast
8:30 – 8:50 a.m. Welcome Address and Introductory Remarks Hendrik Luesch, Thomas Kodadek, Peter Swaan and Jon Licht

Session 1: Induced Proximity Drug Discovery (Moderators: Xingui Liu and Ciaran Seath)

Time Session Speaker
8:50 – 9:30 a.m. Keynote: How PROTAC Degraders Work: Molecular Recognition and Design Principles Alessio Ciulli
9:30 – 9:50 a.m. Chemical Manipulation of Protein Post-Translational Modifications Thomas Kodadek
9:50 – 10:10 a.m. Chemical Tools to Study Biological Systems Monika Raj
10:10 – 10:30 a.m. Leucine Rich Repeat Kinase 2 PROTACs Xingui Liu
10:30 – 10:50 a.m. Altering the H3 Methylation Landscape through Degradation of Methyl-Lysine Reader Proteins Lindsay James
10:50 – 11:05 a.m. BREAK

Session 2A: Emerging Voices in Drug Research (Postdoctoral Fellows)

Time Session Speaker
11:05 – 11:30 a.m. Short talks by postdoctoral fellows Postdoctoral Fellows
11:35 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. LUNCH BREAK

Session 3: Drug Discovery for Infectiouis Diseases (Moderator: Luiz Carvalho and Robert Huigens)

Time Session Speaker
12:35 – 1: 15 p.m. Keynote: Using Complex-and-Diverse Small Molecules to Explore Drug-Resistant Bacteria and Develop Novel Antibiotics Paul Hergenrother
1:15 – 1:35 p.m. Targeting Klebsiella pneumoniae Extracellular Polysaccharides Facilitates Capsular Loss and Biofilm Matrix Collapse Renee Fleeman
1:35 – 1:55 p.m. Nature-Inspired Strategies to Overcome Mycobacterial Drug Resistance and Tolerance Kyle Rohde
1:55 – 2:15 p.m. A Multidisciplinary Approach to Developing a Targeted Therapy to Eliminate a Keystone Dental Pathogen from Oral Biofilms Jose Lemos
2:15 – 2:35 p.m. Repurposing of Type II Human Kinase Inhibitors: Discovery of Resistance-Refractory Prophylactic and Therapeutic Antimalarial Debopam Chakrabarti
2:35 – 2:50 p.m. BREAK

Session 4: Natural Products and Synthetic Biology (Moderators: Marc Chevrette and Matthew Disney

2:50 – 3:30 p.m. Keynote: The Structure-based Design of Modern Hsp90 Inhibitors and their Biological Opportunities Brian Blagg
3:30 – 3:50 p.m. Advancing the Palmerolides Bill Baker
3:50 – 4:10 p.m. Genome Mining for Bacterial Terpenoids Jeff Rudolf
4:10 – 4:30 p.m. Unveiling and Engineering Nature’s Tools for Diketopiperazine Assembly Amy Lane
4:30 – 4:50 p.m. Heterologous Expression of Nutraceuticals, Antibiotics, and Anticoagulants for Use in Space Amor Menezes
4:50 – 6:30 p.m. Poster Session

April 16, 2024


Time Session speaker
7:30-8:30 a.m. Registration and Breakfast
8:30 – 8:40 a.m. Introduction to Day 2 Events Hendrik Luesch and Thomas Kodadek

Session 5: AI-driven Drug Discovery (Moderators: Chenglong Li and Yanjun Li)

Time Session Speaker
8:40 – 9:20 a.m. Keynote: Virtual Screening with GNINA and Pharmit David Koes
9:20 – 9:40 a.m. Rational Enzyme Engineering via AI for Therapeutic Development Wenjun Xie
9:40 – 10:00 a.m. Learning the Language of Life from DNA and Proteins Yana Bromberg
10:00 – 10:20 a.m. Exploring Vast Molecular Spaces with Instant Similarity Ramon Alain Miranda Quintana
10:20 – 10:40 a.m. A Machine Learning Framework for Cancer Drug Sensitivity Estimation Using Time-lapse Microscopy Imaging Wei Zhang
10:40 – 10:55 a.m. BREAK

Session 2B: Emerging Voices in Drug Research (Graduate Students)

Time Session Speaker
10:55 – 11:35 a.m. Short talks by graduate students Graduate Students
11:35 a.m. – 12:35 p.m. LUNCH BREAK with Sponsor Presentations

Session 6: Synthesis-driven Drug Discovery (Moderators: Jane Aldrich and Justin Lopchuk)

Time Session Speaker
12:35 – 1:15 p.m. Keynote: Adventures in Drug Hunting Wendy Young
1:15 – 1:35 p.m. Accelerating drug discovery through innovation in asymmetric S(VI) reagents and methods Justin Lopchuk
1:35 – 1:55 p.m. Late-Stage C-H Functionalization of Bioactive Compounds Masayuki Wasa
1:55 – 2:15 p.m. Terpene-Inspired Mevalonate Pathway Inhibitors James Frederich
2:15 – 2:35 p.m. Diversity-Oriented Synthesis and MS/MS-Based Analysis of Brain Glycosphingolipids Zhongwu Guo
2:35 – 3 p.m. Closing Remarks and Awards Hendrik Luesch and Thomas Kodadek

Keynote Speakers & Abstracts

Alessio Ciulli

Professor of Chemical Structural Biology
Founder and Director, Centre for Targeted Protein Degradation
School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom

How PROTAC degraders work: Molecular recognition and design principles

Our laboratory uses molecular information on protein-protein interactions and protein degradation to discover novel therapeutics. Degrader molecules, also known as PROTACs (PROteolysis-Targeting Chimeras) recruit proteins to E3 ligases for targeted protein degradation. Formation of a ternary complex between the PROTAC, the E3 and the target leads to the tagging of the target protein by ubiquitination, and subsequent proteasomal degradation. In cancer, one such drug target is the E3 ubiquitin ligase VHL, which can be hijacked by PROTACs. Our lab solved crystal structures of VHL bound to fragments of its natural substrate and analysed it to design and synthesize novel small molecule ligands of VHL. We tethered the VHL ligand to a small molecule inhibitor targeting BRD4, a protein frequently deregulated in leukemia. The resulting PROTAC MZ1 bridges BRD4 with VHL and removes BRD4 from leukemic cells. Solving the structure of the ternary bridging complex, we unravelled how the PROTAC MZ1 glues BRD4 to VHL, illuminating structural and biophysical insights into PROTAC molecular recognition and mechanism of action. This fundamental understanding has enabled us to develop further small molecules for hard-to-target proteins and shown how to improve PROTAC activity.

Paul J. Hergenrother

Kenneth L. Rinehart Jr. Endowed Chair in Natural Products Chemistry, and Professor of Chemistry
Department of Chemistry
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Using Complex-and-Diverse Small Molecules to Explore Drug-Resistant Bacteria and Develop Novel Antibiotics

There has not been a new class of antibiotics approved by the FDA for problematic Gram-negative infections in over 50 years.  The major challenge in drug discovery for these pathogens is their dual membrane, which renders them impenetrable to most small molecules. We have implemented an unbiased approach to determine structural features that facilitate compound accumulation in Gram-negative bacteria, involving the assessment of accumulation of hundreds of compounds, both natural-product-like and drug-like small molecules.  The results of these experiments have led to the ‘eNTRy rules’ (guidelines for predicting compound accumulation in E. coli), and more recently the ‘PASsageE rules’ (guidelines for predicting compound accumulation in P. aeruginosa).  This lecture will describe these findings, and their application toward a general blueprint for the development of antibiotics with activity against Gram-negative organisms. We are seeking to exploit antibacterial targets that enable specific killing of Gram-negative pathogens as compared to commensal bacteria.  Unlike most all approved antibiotics, the novel antibiotics we have discovered do not lead to gut dysbiosis in mice, and also do not allow C. difficile infection to take hold after treatment.  With the many deleterious effects of antibiotic-induced gut dysbiosis now recognized, this type of “dual-selective” antibiotic – selective for Gram-negative bacteria over Gram-positive, and selective for pathogenic bacteria over commensals – could lead to significant benefits for patients.

Brian Blagg

Director of Warren Family Research Center for Drug Discovery and Development
Charles Huisking Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry University of Notre Dame

The Structure-based Design of Modern Hsp90 Inhibitors and their Biological Opportunities

The Hsp90 molecular chaperone is composed of four family members that play key roles in the folding of nascent polypeptides as well as the rematuration of misfolded proteins. The cytosolic chaperones, Hsp90a and Hsp90b, contribute to tumorigenesis and represent attractive targets for the treatment of cancer. Grp94 is the ER-localized paralog that is responsible for the trafficking of proteins, such as myocillin, and consequently represents an ideal target for the treatment of primary open angle glaucoma. In contrast to the inhibition of Hsp90, the molecular chaperones can be overexpressed to exhibit neuroprotective activity in animal models of neuropathy. While the Hsp90 isoforms play key roles in various diseases, the N-terminal ATP-binding site is >85% identical, making the development of selective inhibitors challenging. In this presentation, methods used to develop isoform-selective inhibitors will be disclosed as well as some of the early preclinical studies that are being pursued for translation.

David Koes

Associate Professor
Department of Computational and Systems Biology
School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh

Virtual Screening with GNINA and Pharmit

Molecular docking computationally predicts the conformation of a small molecule when binding to a receptor. Scoring functions are a vital piece of any molecular docking pipeline as they determine the fitness of sampled poses. We will describe the training and development of convolutional neural networks for protein-ligand scoring and how these deep learning models are integrated into the GNINA molecular docking open source software.  In contrast to docking, pharmacophore matching is a highly efficient means to rapidly screen large libraries of compounds.  We will describe our sub-linear time algorithms for pharmacophore matching and our open source Pharmit web resource for virtual screening.  Successful prospective evaluations of GNINA and Pharmit will be discussed, including recent top performance in the Critical Assessment of Computational Hit-Finding Experiments (CACHE).

Wendy Young

Former SVP, Drug Discovery, Genentech

Adventures in Drug Hunting

This talk spans three decades of small molecule drug discovery and development insights.  The adventures include academia, biotech, large pharma, non-profit and venture capital leadership.  Scientific vignettes of discovering and developing inhibitors for tryptase, Factor Xa, fVIIa, and BTK will be shared. It is a personal journey that parallels impactful accomplishments, observations and advice for today’s students, scientists, and leaders at all stages of their careers. 

Thank You to Our Sponsors

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