Virtual UF Drug Discovery Symposium garnered more participation than ever before

The 4th UF Drug Discovery Symposium, hosted by the College of Pharmacy’s Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development, broke a record with nearly 200 registrants from 11 Florida institutions, April 22-23.

Susan L. Mooberry, Ph.D., answers a question after her keynote address on the first day of the UF Drug Discovery Symposium, April 22.
Susan L. Mooberry, Ph.D., answers a question after her keynote address on the first day of the UF Drug Discovery Symposium, April 22.

The 2-day virtual symposium featured two keynote speakers: Susan L. Mooberry, Ph.D., a professor of pharmacology and the Greehey Distinguished Chair in Targeted Molecular Therapeutics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Connor W. Coley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Mooberry gave a presentation titled, “Microtubule Binding Drugs: New Opportunities for Targeted Cancer Therapies.,” and Coley’s presentation was titled, “Data-Driven Chemistry, Small Molecule Synthesis, and Design.”

Session topics ranged from synthetic and natural products approaches to drug discovery as well as cancer pharmacology and mechanism of action studies on day 1. Topics such as drug design and synthesis with artificial intelligence, molecular imaging and diagnostics, and new technology-driven approaches for targeted therapy were presented on day 2. The symposium attracted session speakers from nine different Florida institutions.

UF Drug Discovery Symposium participants navigated virtual rooms, approaching boards to join poster presentations.
UF Drug Discovery Symposium participants navigated virtual rooms, approaching boards to join poster presentations.

Networking and posters were presented using a platform reminiscent of early video games, where symposium participants selected an avatar and then moved about the virtual rooms to interact with other participants. Upon approaching another avatar, their camera and microphone feeds would be shared. In the case of poster presentations, another feed with an image of the poster would be shared with those gathered together.

All three previous symposia were held in Gainesville, but event organizers turned to a virtual format this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. “We had to move to another platform that was not on the table before, but the science show must go on,” 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. “Even in a virtual setting, I believe the symposium brought Florida’s drug discovery community and trainees closer together and promoted research exchange and collaborations.”

The symposium allowed opportunities for trainees to present their research through oral and poster presentations, with poster talks on day 1 and short talks on day 2.

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Poster Presentation Winners

Graduate Student Category

Genome-based drug discovery

  • Krishna Patel: Exploring molecular mechanisms of microviridin biosynthesis to develop novel therapeutics scaffolds
  • Emma Stowell: Characterization of the terpentecin biosynthetic pathway by analysis of the bacterial terpene synthase Tpn2

Natural products-based drug discovery and pharmacology

  • Lisa Wilson: Kratom alkaloid extract, mitragynine, and mitragynine pseudoindoxyl as treatment for pain and OUD

Synthesis driven drug discovery

  • Zhishen Wang: Mapping the activities of heparinase with synthetic disaccharides

Chemical biology and mechanism of action

  • Lobna Elsadek: Genomic and targeted approaches unveil the cell membrane as a major target of antifungal cytotoxin amantelide A

Postgraduate Category

  • Tengfei Bian: NNAL promotes lung cancer progression in isomer-dependent manner

Undergraduate Student Category

  • Elijah Abraham: Histone methyltransferase inhibitor chaetocin strongly and specifically affects metal responsive genes

 

Oral Competition Winners

Graduate Student Category

  • Amy Alleyne: Peripherally restricted kappa agonists demonstrate long-lasting antinociception with decreased liabilities in models of acute and chronic pain
  • Kelton Schleyer: Expanding the toolkit of small molecule imaging probes for heparanase

Postdoctoral Category

  • Pratik Pal: Discovery of a BCL-XL/BCL-2 dual function PROTAC