Dr. Tom Burris wins inaugural UF Innovate Innovation Fund Award to develop exercise mimetics

By Tyler Francischine

Tom Burris, Ph.D., chair of the University of Florida College of Pharmacy department of pharmacodynamics and director of the UF Genetics Institute, received the inaugural UF Innovate Innovation Fund Award this month for his work developing exercise mimetics.

Exercise mimetics are a class of drugs that mimic the biological effects of physical exercise. By triggering proteins responsible for activating metabolic pathways, exercise mimetics send signals to the body similar to the effects of endurance training for a marathon: energy expenditure is increased, and fat is metabolized in the body more quickly. Burris’s team is currently developing and refining multiple drug compounds and natural products proven to cause weight loss in animal models, with aims to create a drug or dietary supplement that can be used to treat diseases like obesity, diabetes and age-related muscle loss in humans.

“Receiving the UF Innovate Innovation Fund Award is certainly a signal of the value of the research we’re doing and its potential to be translated into a product. An exercise mimetic could be used to improve the lives of individuals who have some challenges with losing weight, those who want to improve fitness, or those who have obesity-related diseases, including heart failure and fatty liver disease,” Burris said.

Burris’s lab is one of three, UF faculty member-led teams to win the Innovation Fund Award from UF Innovate. Winners were selected from a pool of 60 applicants, whittled down to nine finalists who pitched their projects to a panel of industry and venture capital judges. Each winning team received $50,000 to advance their innovative projects and prepare for commercialization.