UConn Researchers Develop Promising Therapeutics with PITCH

PRImageDrawingIn a partnership with Yale University called PITCH (Program in Innovative Therapeutics for Connecticut’s Health), several UConn researchers are conducting groundbreaking drug research to develop new strategies for treating disease and improving human health. The program leverages the research capabilities and infrastructure at the state’s premier research universities in order to transform basic science into marketable products.

“The PITCH program provides critical support for drug discovery and commercialization, which is a very difficult, complex and expensive process,” said UConn/UConn Health Vice President for Research, Dr. Jeff Seemann. “This large-scale collaboration between world-class researchers at UConn and Yale increases productivity at both institutions, which in turn benefits society and economic growth in the state with the successful launch of new biotech companies and the commercialization of effective therapeutics.”

Current UConn PITCH projects include the following:

Dr. James Cole is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Department of Chemistry at UConn.  With 12 years of research funded by the National Institutes of Health dedicated to elucidating the mechanism of activation of the antiviral protein kinase R (PKR), along with 10 years of experience in antiviral drug discovery at Merck Research Laboratories, Dr. Cole is carrying out high-throughput screening for novel PKR activators. These molecules will serve as drug leads to combat globally important viral diseases that currently lack effective treatments, such as Influenza, Ebola and Dengue.

Dr. Michael Lynes is Professor and Head of the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UConn. Through his global research collaborations and his work at UConn, Dr. Lynes’ research has had a significant impact on our understanding of the genetic, biochemical and cellular processes involved in immune regulation including the role of environmental toxicants as well as the stress protein metallothionein. This has resulted in the discovery of a new therapeutic antibody for the treatment of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), a group of severe and debilitating immunological diseases affecting more 1 million people in the U.S and 2.5 million in Europe.  Direct IBD treatment costs and the associated disability-related costs are in the billions of dollars annually.  The PITCH program will allow Dr. Lynes and his collaborators at the University of Gent IBD Research Unit to investigate this new therapeutic, and the potential to provide a new, safer and more effective therapeutic intervention for patients suffering from chronic inflammatory diseases such as IBD.

Dr. Li Wang is Professor in the UConn Department of Physiology & Neurobiology and a member of the UConn Institute for Systems Genomics.  She is also an Investigator with the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, as well as an Adjunct Faculty of the Section of Digestive Diseases, Department of Internal Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine and a member of Yale Liver Center. In 2014, Dr. Wang brought her research program to Connecticut to work on the physiology of the liver and liver diseases. She is an internationally-recognized expert on the molecular and cellular biology of the liver. Along with her collaborators, Dr. Dennis Wright and Dr. Diane Burgess, who are leading experts in medicinal chemistry and drug delivery from the UConn School of Pharmacy, Dr. Wang is working to develop novel compounds to treat fibrotic liver disease, a contributor to mortality in patients affected by cirrhosis and a leading cause of liver cancer, causing around 1.5 million deaths worldwide per year.

Drs. Dennis Wright, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Amy Anderson, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Head, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences of UConn, are providing assistance to lead investigator, Dr. Mark Plummer, from Yale’s Center for Molecular Discovery in a truly collaborative, cross-university project. It is estimated that each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with drug-resistant bacteria and at least 23,000 people die annually as a direct result of these infections. For over a decade, Professors Wright and Anderson have been working on developing new antibiotics to combat drug-resistant bacteria.  The PITCH program will allow this team to work side by side to develop new beta-lactam antibiotics for highly drug resistant Gram-negative pathogens.

Launched in September 2015, PITCH is supported by a three-year, $10 million investment by BioInnovation Connecticut, and helps innovators speed bioscience discoveries toward commercialization. For more information, visit the PITCH webpage. The next round of applications are due on July 15, 2016. Applications should be sent to pitch@yale.eduAccess the application here.