Stony Brook researchers have attracted the attention of a multinational pharmaceutical company for their discovery of novel chemical compounds, which target the pathogen that causes tuberculosis.
Tuberculosis is one of the world’s biggest killers, causing more than a million deaths a year. Moreover, the causative agent, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is adept at evolving ways to resist commonly used medicines. Multidrug-resistant (MDR) and extremely multidrug-resistant (XDR) forms of the disease have emerged, making the need for new drugs that act by different mechanisms even more critical.
Iwao Ojima, distinguished professor of chemistry at Stony Brook University and director of the Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, has a patent on a class of compounds that inhibit cell division in mycobacteria. Laboratory testing has shown that the new compounds are highly effective at inhibiting bacterial growth in cell culture and in an animal model.
“Studies are underway to determine the scope and mechanism of this inhibition with the hope of identifying compounds that target both dividing and dormant cells,” Ojima says. Indeed the capacity of the tuberculosis bacterium to lie dormant has been one of the most vexing problems for medicine to overcome, to completely clear the infection from a patient. “We have highly promising results at both fronts,” Ojima says.
Ojima has a long relationship with Sanofi scientists, having collaborated with the previous iteration of the company’s chemistry division in the early 1990s. Then, when Sanofi began actively pursuing academic partners, they came to Stony Brook to visit Ojima.
The collaboration benefits Stony Brook because Sanofi will test the compounds in a battery of preclinical tests, which include metabolism, toxicity, and off-target effects. “There are so many tests. It’s a very rigorous protocol to evaluate candidate drugs,” Ojima says. Sanofi benefits from the medicinal chemistry expertise of Ojima and his team, who will tweak compounds to improve performance in those tests. It truly is a collaborative, back-and-forth process.
“We’re learning a lot about how a drug company really looks at a compound and how they prioritize things,” says Sean Boykevisch, a licensing associate in Stony Brook’s Office of Technology Licensing and Industry Relations. “It will help us on our larger portfolio as well,” he says, of learning about the process.
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