Dr. Hendrik Luesch and team awarded $8.8 million NIGMS grant to unlock limitations in natural product drug discovery research

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 the UF College of Pharmacy, and a team of investigators have been awarded an $8.8 million grant to address limitations in natural product drug discovery. The five-year award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences will establish a multi-investigator team with researchers at UF, Princeton University and the Smithsonian Marine Station.

CyanobacteriaThe research will focus on marine organisms with exceptional biosynthetic potential, employing genomic and chemical approaches. The genomes of cyanobacteria and sponge-associated microbes encode numerous compounds that could provide the basis for new drugs. The discovery and development of these chemicals as drug candidates is challenging due to their low availability in nature.

Luesch’s multidisciplinary research team will integrate genomics, biosynthesis, synthetic biology, enzymology and structural biology, chemical synthesis and pharmacological profiling of natural products from marine cyanobacteria and sponges and identify therapeutic applications.

“This research should establish a highly impactful and innovative pipeline that discovers promising therapeutics leads from untapped natural resources,” Luesch said. “We will also address major limitations which have hindered natural product drug discovery to date.”

He adds that this is only the beginning. “Our disease-agnostic platform will serve as a launch pad for specific programs to develop genome-encoded marine molecular medicines for many different indications.”

Co-Principal Investigators on the award include Yousong Ding, Ph.D., and Steven Bruner, Ph.D., from UF, as well as Mohamed Donia, Ph.D., from Princeton University and Valerie Paul, Ph.D., from the Smithsonian Marine Station. Other team members at UF include co-Investigators Chenglong Li, Ph.D., and Keith Choe, Ph.D.; collaborator Valérie de Crécy-Lagard, Ph.D.; scientific program manager Ranjala Ratnayake, Ph.D.; and project supporters Qi-Yin Chen, Ph.D., and Gustavo Seabra, Ph.D.