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John E. Fogarty International Center (FIC)

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

John Makulowich

Fogarty Announces Awards for Biodiversity-based Drug Discovery Research

The Fogarty International Center (FIC), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced two new awards to support the search for new pharmaceutical compounds and agricultural agents from organisms found in coral reefs, forests, and extreme environments, the cataloging of these diverse organisms, and the training of scientists in the United States and developing countries.

Chemical compounds originally identified from plants, animals and micro-organisms have been the basis for the development of nearly half of our new drugs over the past 20 years. Recent examples include a new drug called ziconitide (Prialt TM) for treatment of severe chronic pain originally derived from tropical cone snails, and an anti-cancer compound called hemiasterlin, based on a molecule found in sponges off the coast of New Guinea.

As part of its International Cooperative Biodiversity Groups (ICBG) program, FIC is funding international, public-private, interdisciplinary research teams. The two awardees are led by Dr. Jon Clardy of Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) and by Dr. Mark Hay of Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA).

The awards, co-sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and National Institute of General Medical Sciences, both parts of the NIH, and the National Science Foundation, provide $6.5 million over four years to support these two new projects. Together with five previously awarded ICBG grants, total funding for the program is about $6 million per year from a consortium of U.S. government science funding agencies.

"Novel compounds from natural products continue to be one of the most important sources of completely new chemistry," noted FIC Acting Director, Dr. Sharon Hrynkow. "The ICBG program works to identify such compounds in close partnership with universities, pharmaceutical companies, and other non-governmental organizations, including indigenous peoples' groups."

Dr. Clardy's team includes investigators at Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA); Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT (Cambridge, MA); University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI); National Institute of Biodiversity (Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica); and Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (Cambridge, MA).

The Harvard project will focus on organisms found in Costa Rica that have been under-explored because they are less accessible, less well-known scientifically, and more difficult to analyze. Research teams will use these organisms, for example, marine and soil bacteria and a type of fungus that lives inside plants, to identify compounds with the potential to treat a wide spectrum of disorders. These include infectious diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, and several types of cancer.

Dr. Hay's team includes investigators from Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, GA); Scripps Institution of Oceanography (La Jolla, CA); University of the South Pacific (Suva, Fiji); and Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Research Institute (Princeton, NJ).

The Georgia Institute of Technology project will study marine bacteria and coral reef plants and invertebrates to uncover chemical compounds for use in treating people with cancer, malaria, HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, and other emerging bacterial pathogens, such as drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

"These projects are noteworthy because they will use not only state-of-the-art approaches to drug discovery and conservation science, but also novel approaches to the ethical sharing of benefits among all partners," said Dr. Joshua Rosenthal, FIC Biodiversity Program Director.

In addition to the two new awards, the ICBG supports five other projects. Joining FIC in supporting these other projects are the National Institute of Mental Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Cancer Institute, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Office of Dietary Supplements, and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation.

For more information on the ICBG program, see this web site: http://www.fic.nih.gov/programs/icbg.html.

FIC, the international component of the NIH, addresses global health challenges through innovative and collaborative research and training programs and supports and advances the NIH mission through international partnerships.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary Federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

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