UF Drug Discovery Symposium participants and CNPD3 supporters:
It is my pleasure to announce that our 3rd UF Drug Discovery Symposium held from April 25th to 26th, 2019 at the Hotel Indigo, Celebration Pointe, Gainesville turned out to be an outstanding success and was received with great enthusiasm by the entire Florida research community from across the state and plenary speakers from coast to coast. The event provided an excellent forum for drug discovery enthusiasts to explore opportunities for collaborations and share ideas with experts in the field. I am thankful for the overwhelming resonance and that we could fill a void with this symposium.
This year we had a record-breaking attendance. The 180 participants represented 7 Florida universities and research institutions, including the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida Atlantic University, University of Central Florida, Smithsonian Marine Station, Scripps Research– Florida, and University of North Florida, in addition to 7 companies and out-of-state organizations. UF was well represented across 5 colleges and 18 departments. Our guests and participants were able to enjoy presentations from leaders in the drug discovery field, including a keynote address from Ben Shen (Scripps Research), and 3 plenary speakers from the University of California, Santa Cruz, The University of Notre Dame and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, New York, and an exceptional line up of 22 session speakers representing the major Florida academic research institutes. Talks on early stage drug discovery were complemented by systems pharmacology development talks and presentations by clinicians who provided critical clinical insights. A highlight of this year’s event was a brief session of short talks by our rising research-track faculty in addition to the postdoctoral and graduate student oral and poster presentations. A record 13 young researchers joined the podium with their peers to share exceptional research carried out at the different Floridian institutions. The event also featured a poster session where 54 graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and research assistant professors presented their ongoing drug discovery research.
The 2-day marathon glued the participants to their seats (we had exactly 180 chairs) almost nonstop from start to finish. The symposium reinforced the major role of natural products in drug discovery, specifically for cancer, infectious diseases, and drug abuse and pain, which represent areas of strength at UF. It became evident that there is complementary expertise across the state. Each of these disease-focused sessions started with plenary speakers who are leaders in the field, including (from west to east) John MacMillan (UC Santa Cruz), Marvin Miller (Notre Dame) and Paul Kenny (Mt. Sinai, NY). An additional disease agnostic “From Genomes to Natural Products” session was preceded by the keynote speech by Ben Shen, which was eye-opening for the audience in that it became clear that most microbial natural products remain to be discovered and that so far we only captured the tip of the iceberg for current drug discovery efforts and screening campaigns. The opportunities for natural products are spectacular, although natural products oftentimes must be further optimized through medicinal chemistry but which can also be achieved through metabolic engineering. In turn, Nature may have already re-engineered pathways to yield different, perhaps more optimized structures, and Shen illustrated an approach to probe this concept. Nature has evolved not just structures but also intriguing mechanisms for drug delivery and drug action. Marvin Miller described how we can hijack such a nature-evolved delivery mechanism to treat even drug resistant gram-negative infections. All natural products are bioactive and it is up to us to identify relevant biology and figure out what they do in its natural environment or can do in a biomedical context. John MacMillan addressed that we must and how we can get better at target identification and understanding mechanisms of action, as the basis for their development into therapeutics. He highlighted the importance of phenotypic screening in drug discovery, while Paul Kenny and the “Drug Abuse and Pain” session demonstrated that in vivo behavioral pharmacology is irreplaceable towards identifying new therapeutics in that space. The scientific part of the symposium ended with UF’s Gatorade Trust Professor Christian Jobin, who refreshed us with an energizing talk, leading us into the world of microbiome-host interactions and opportunities for drug discovery, and then to happy hour.
Drug discovery and development (D3) is multidisciplinary, which was reflected by the number of different departments represented at the symposium. One main message was to unite but also to involve clinicians early in drug discovery. It is imperative that they inform basic scientists so that we ask the right questions and do not run down the wrong road. There are many ways in which we have to build bridges to shorten timelines for the lengthy D3 process. On a lighter note, non-chemists learned how to insult organic chemists (just ask about their yields), that we need barometers to assess human health now, and that microbiota and polyamines are everywhere and involved in everything. The gut is like an ocean, and microbes and microbial chemistry can be investigated without going diving in the Keys. Kratom is in/on everybody’s mind after the 2nd day’s afternoon session, when we heard about the good and the bad Kratom-derived indole alkaloids, mitragynine and its oxidation product, respectively. The symposium also taught us that we can reengineer their pharmacological properties by distorting their rings so we can turn things around from bad to good in drug discovery and hopefully in society as well. “Build bridges, not walls”… “Grow and Glow” …. and in the spirit of Florida’s ocean centric natural products community “Go Deeper” (sequencing or diving) and of course “Go Gators.”
Poster and graduate student/postdoc sessions:
Thank you to our session moderators and judges: Profs. Bill Baker and Siobhan Malany (moderators); Profs. John MacMillan, Juan Del Valle, Chris Xing, Ben Shen, Holden Ko, and Chenglong Li (Oral presentation judges); Profs. Amy Lane, Jeffrey Rudolf, Yousong Ding, Kyle Rohde, Predag Cudic, Guangrong Zheng, Brandon Warren, Brian Law and Rob Huigens, and Dr. Francisco Leon (Poster judges).
Oral Presentations; Student Category Winners ($200 cash awards):
Verrill (Chip) Norwood: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
Yi Zhang: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
Andrew Shilling: Department of Chemistry/College of Arts and Sciences; USF
Oral Presentations; Postdoc Category Winner ($200 cash awards):
Sebastiano Intagliata: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
Poster Presentations; Student Category Winners ($200 cash awards):
Guandge Jiang: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
Casey Chamberlain: Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine/College of Medicine; UF
Lais Wright: Department of Pharmaceutics/College of Pharmacy; UF
Brittany Smith: Department of Chemistry/College of Liberal arts and Sciences; UF
Kelton Schleyer: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
Thomas Cirino: Department of Pharmacodynamics/College of Pharmacy; UF
Poster Presentations; Postdoc Category Winners ($200 cash awards):
Dr. Rashmi Gupta: College of Medicine/Burnett School of Biomedical Science; UCF
Dr. Alejandra Chavez-Riveros: Department of Medicinal Chemistry/College of Pharmacy; UF
A big thank you to all our speakers, session chairs and event organizers for making this a memorable event. Thank you to all our participants for being part of this year’s event and watch for an announcement regarding the 4th UFDDS tentatively scheduled for April 22-23, 2021. A very special thank you to all our internal and external sponsors without whose continuing support this event would not have been possible.
We hope you all had a great time of interaction, science and fun and we look forward to your participation in 2021!
Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D.
Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development
Professor and Chair, Department of Medicinal Chemistry
Director of Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development (CNPD3)