Assistant professors Rob Huigens, Ph.D. and Yousong Ding, Ph.D., each secured $1.7 million grants from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences in August. For these junior faculty hired in 2013, earning a National Institutes of Health grant is a first. For the department of medicinal chemistry in the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, the new grants achieve department perfection, with 10 out of 10 tenure-track Ph.D. program faculty members being federally funded.
“Having all of our tenure-track faculty federally funded is an amazing accomplishment,” said Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., a professor and chair of medicinal chemistry and the Debbie and Sylvia DeSantis Chair in Natural Products Drug Discovery and Development. “In an era when competition for federal grants is extremely competitive, our faculty have demonstrated success in promoting research ideas and projects that have immense potential to improve human health.”
The 10 medicinal chemistry faculty currently serve as principal investigators on 18 different federally funded grants worth more than $18.4 million. Their research projects span broad interest areas from identifying novel cancer drugs in the ocean to developing new compounds as potential therapies to combat drug abuse. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, sponsors many of the grants.
Since 2015, six new faculty joined the department, significantly contributing to the research funding growth. All but one of the hires joined at an associate professor rank or higher. Luesch credits the visionary recruitment of some of the most innovative young investigators in 2013 as critical to the Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development, or CNPD3, genomes-to-natural products-to-drugs initiative that flourished in the revitalized department. The successful recruitment of several accomplished medicinal chemists with complementary expertise and research interests in areas of high unmet clinical needs also elevated his department’s prestige and productivity.
In addition to the 10 tenure-track faculty with federal grants, Ranjala Ratnayake, Ph.D., a non-tenure track research assistant professor, secured an NIH grant to develop complex natural product libraries and multidimensional anticancer screening platforms in the CNPD3.