Dr. Hendrik Luesch wins UF Innovation of the Year award for Gatorbulin discovery

Hendrik Luesch’s discovery and complete chemical and pharmacological characterization of a novel marine natural product that can potentially fight cancer has earned him a 2021 UF Innovation of the Year award. Luesch and six other University of Florida faculty were honored at the 4th Annual Standing InnOvation Event in Gainesville’s Innovation District on Oct. 26.

Drs. Luesch and Norton
Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., and David Norton, Ph.D., vice president of research at UF

Standing InnOvation recognizes UF innovators who have disclosed, licensed or optioned a technology in the previous fiscal year. UF Innovate selected Luesch’s discovery from among nearly 300 inventions disclosed in fiscal year 2021.

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 the UF College of Pharmacy, named his anti-cancer compound class Gatorbulin. It pays tribute to the UF researchers, including his team members Susan Matthew, Qi-Yin Chen and Ranjala Ratnayake, and global partners who led the way to its discovery and characterization.

Gatorbulin-1, the first compound class member, originated from cyanobacteria blooms found off the Florida coast near Fort Lauderdale. UF researchers discovered the novel marine natural product bound to a new site of tubulin, an important target for cancer drugs. Natural products targeting tubulin have provided the basis for several anti-cancer drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including paclitaxel and vincristine.

For decades, cancer researchers have explored new ways to modify the protein’s function and dynamics by developing compounds that target one of tubulin’s six binding sites. Luesch and other UF researchers discovered Gatorbulin actually targets a seventh pharmacological site.

Identifying and fully characterizing this new tubulin-targeting compound and the new druggable binding site took years of work. Luesch, who is also director of the Center for Natural Products, Drug Discovery and Development and a member of the UF Cancer Center, said the compound has unique structural features and drug-like character, and can be reproduced in the lab through his teams’ scalable chemical synthesis, all of which additionally distinguishes Gatorbulin from other molecules and drugs targeting tubulin.

For more information about Dr. Luesch’s research, visit: https://pharmacy.ufl.edu/hendrikluesch/.