Augusta University recently received its ninth Academic Research Enhancement Award, also known as an R15, from the National Institutes of Health. This award will provide hands-on experience to STEM undergraduate students who are interested in a career in drug development.
Developing novel drugs to address human medical needs involves at least four steps: drug identification and synthesis, preclinical research in animals, clinical research in humans and FDA review and post-market safety monitoring.
Dr. Iryna Lebedyeva, principal investigator for this grant project, is a medicinal chemist in the Department of Chemistry and Physics in the College of Science and Mathematics, and Dr. Darren Browning, co-investigator, is a cancer-prevention scientist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical College of Georgia.
Browning and Lebedyeva are proud of this opportunity to give students experience in such a large, diverse industry.
“The United States biopharmaceutical industry employs more than 800,000 people in a range of occupations, including scientific research, technical support and manufacturing,” said Browning. “The industry demands a highly skilled and STEM-educated workforce from the administrative level up to PhD scientists.”
Specifically, this grant project will work with drugs known as phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors (PDE5i).
Browning discovered that PDE5i can prevent colorectal cancer in mice, and recent evidence suggests they will also be effective in people. However, health care providers cannot repurpose contemporary PDE5i (such as Viagra or Cialis) for colon cancer prevention due to the side effects and known drug-drug interactions.
Therefore, Lebedyeva and Browning have teamed up to create novel PDE5i that avoid these unwanted effects by keeping them in the colon and avoiding leakage into the bloodstream.
During fall and winter 2021, the first cohort of undergraduate students with an organic chemistry background will work part-time in Lebedyeva’s laboratory on the Summerville Campus to design and synthesize novel PDE5i. Students will learn the fundamentals of medicinal chemistry, drug discovery and organic synthesis.
Then, in summer 2022, undergraduate students with a biology background will work full-time in Browning’s laboratory in the Georgia Cancer Center to test the drug candidates both in vitro and in animals. Students will learn the fundamentals of enzymology, pharmacology and toxicology.
The grant runs for two years and will recruit students for each cycle. Top-performing students with both biology and chemistry background can be involved in the synthesis of novel PDE5i during the academic year, then continue during summer to see their drug candidate through the next stages of pre-investigational new drug, or “pre-IND,” testing.
Browning believes this collaboration between the Summerville and Health Sciences campuses highlights the potential of Augusta University faculty to integrate undergraduate and graduate programs in STEM education.
Alternatively, students can participate in just one of the phases (synthesis or testing). Student participation in this program will be competitively compensated.
A central goal of the program is to inspire students to embrace careers in the biopharmaceutical industry upon graduation, or continue into one of Augusta University’s biomedical science PhD programs.
Students interested in participating should complete the application. Preference will be given to junior and senior students with organic chemistry, biochemistry or cell biology background.
“In partnership with the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship, this grant opportunity represents yet another example why the Augusta University commitment to high-impact, experiential learning gives our students a college experience like no other,” said Browning.