The University of Arizona College of Pharmacy has established the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery, connecting researchers at the UA in Tucson and Phoenix with pharmaceutical partners to advance drug discovery throughout the state.

The Center will create the necessary infrastructure to bridge UA researchers with pharmaceutical partners to establish a collaborative environment to advance novel disease intervention findings beyond the laboratory setting.

“Universities have outstanding disease and technology experts, however, they often lack unified, streamlined resources to develop a drug,” said Karen Lackey, interim director for the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery. “By translating current research into commercialized opportunities, the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery aims to create a portfolio that spans biologic targets, therapeutic areas and modalities, and aligns with industry seeking cures for diseases.”

The Center will work with faculty members and established scientists at the UA to assemble teams around shared research projects in drug discovery and development. Faculty members also will be mentored and provided guidance regarding how to get started in drug discovery.

Concurrently, the Center will work with various pharmaceutical company academic partnership programs to showcase project concepts, technology platforms and advanced models of disease. If the innovation aligns with the pharmaceutical partner’s interests, the Center will help facilitate building a multiyear, integrated research plan with the objective to deliver an effective medicine. The Center also will support UA-funded projects by assisting to advance potential drug candidates through the required phases of efficacy and safety testing, which involves Investigational New Drug (IND) enabling studies.

“The key to creating an industry-academic partnership is finding an alignment between the industry partners’ needs and objectives, and the university investigators’ strengths in research and patient care,” Lackey said.

Lackey’s experience as the former vice president of chemistry and global chemical biology for Hoffmann La-Roche, former vice president of chemistry for GlaxoSmithKline’s Molecular Discovery Research, and more than four years in academic drug discovery has given her a keen perspective on how to build a successful center. The university setting and the pharmaceutical industry have different processes, resources, timelines, cultures and metrics – but they have a common goal to deliver effective treatments to patients. The key is to create a seamless interface to enable each partner to bring its strengths to the project, which is where the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery fits in.

“The Arizona Center for Drug Discovery’s strategy is novel because they have experts who understand the process for developing new drugs and products,” said Michael Dake, MD, senior vice president for UA Health Sciences. “Bridging interdisciplinary university faculty experts with partners in the pharmacy industry is a viable model to create new drugs.”

The Center was created in unison with the UA College of Pharmacy’s recent start of an expansion and renovation of the Skaggs Pharmaceutical Sciences Center, a 35-year-old building. The Skaggs Pharmaceutical Sciences Center houses the college’s faculty, graduate students and fellows, whose research is focused on pharmacogenomics, drug discovery, pharmaceutics, pharmacology and toxicology.

“The Arizona Center for Drug Discovery is the mechanism that will advance the College’s efforts in drug discovery,” said Rick G. Schnellmann, PhD, UA College of Pharmacy dean and professor. “If the college and our pharmacy partners follow shared principles of setting mutual goals, communicating regularly around funding, timelines, expectations and resources and demonstrating transparency in our work, we can be successful.”