The third UF Drug Discovery Symposium brought a record-breaking 180 participants, including many of Florida’s major players in the drug discovery field, to Hotel Indigo in Gainesville on April 25–26. The symposium — hosted by the University of Florida College of Pharmacy’s Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development, or CNPD3 — featured a keynote address by Ben Shen, Ph.D., director of the Natural Products Library Initiative at Scripps Research, and other high-profile plenary speakers.
Shen’s presentation titled, “Challenges and Opportunities for Natural Products and Drug Discovery in the Genomic Era,” validated the natural products-centric drug discovery efforts driven by the UF College of Pharmacy. Shen emphasized how progress made in genome mining has created a new era for the targeted discovery of natural product scaffolds. He underscored that most microbial natural products have not even been discovered yet, although they are clearly encoded in the genome, stressing the opportunities for new drug discovery.
The symposium additionally had three plenary speakers and one special topic presentation. John MacMillan, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of California, Santa Cruz, spoke about the discovery of non-small cell lung cancer toxins. Marvin Miller,Ph.D., an emeritus professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, discussed hijacking microbial iron transport for developing targeted antibiotics. Paul Kenny, Ph.D., a professor of neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, talked about developing novel therapeutics for substance use disorders. Special topic speaker Christian Jobin, Ph.D., a professor in the UF College of Medicine, addressed how intestinal microbiota can serve as a barometer of health and disease and that host-microbe interactions are emerging drug targets.
“The symposium was an impressive display of our collective drug discovery expertise and momentum we have created over the past few years at UF in strategic areas of strength, opportunity and unmet clinical need,” said Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., director of the CNPD3 and professor of the department of medicinal chemistry at the UF College of Pharmacy. “The tremendous state-wide participation emphasized the thirst for collaborative drug discovery at UF and other institutions in Florida, in accordance with the symposium theme of ‘building bridges’ to close gaps towards drug development but also to promote awareness and communication among researchers.”
The event also highlighted collaborative research from the CNPD3 members in addition to speakers from across University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of North Florida, Florida Atlantic University, University of Central Florida and Wake Forest School of Medicine. The 22 session speakers covered a variety of topics across genomes to natural products discovery, cancer drug discovery and translation, antibiotics and infectious disease, and drug abuse and pain, featuring presentations on early-stage drug discovery complemented by clinical talks.
This year’s symposium highlights also included a special session by rising research-track faculty, in addition to the graduate student and postdoctoral fellow oral and poster sessions. A record number of 54 posters were presented by young researchers from several universities, while oral sessions capped a record of 13 short talks this year.