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July 21, 2014

USC pharmacy research earns $11.3 million federal grant

An $11.3 million federal grant announced Monday will help establish a research center at the University of South Carolina for work on a new form of drugs to attack major diseases on the molecular level.

An $11.3 million federal grant announced Monday will help establish a research center at the University of South Carolina for work on a new form of drugs to attack major diseases on the molecular level.

The five-year grant through the National Institutes of Health allows the school to establish the Center for Targeted Therapeutics in the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. Physically, it’ll be located on the renovated seventh floor of the Coker Life Sciences building on the USC campus in Columbia.

USC pharmacy professor Igor Roninson will lead the new center. The first research projects will study the underlying causes of cancer and neurological diseases. Roninson’s recent research has focused on a certain gene that turns on and off the process of cell division, which is at the heart of cancer.

Roninson has been a leader in that broad, complex avenue of research, and he was recruited to USC for that expertise. Building on his existing work, the grant positions USC “to take the lead in efforts to provide better drug therapies,” said Randall C. Rowen, dean of the USC campus of the pharmacy school, which also includes the pharmacy program at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The grant allows the Center for Targeted Therapeutics to hire six new faculty members to work on the research, adding to the nearly half dozen currently focusing on the subject. The center also will provide pilot grants to encourage further research in the field.

The impact promises to be “the largest impact from a federally funded grant that we’ve ever had,” Rowen said. “It creates a center of expertise.”

Roninson says major pharmaceutical companies aren’t doing this type of research.

“This grant is recognition that the most promising pharmaceuticals – ones that provide more effective approaches to hard-to-treat diseases – are now being discovered in academic labs through multidisciplinary collaborations, before they are picked up by big pharma,” Roninson said.

Roninson founded Senex Biotechnology, which develops targeted drugs based on discoveries in his lab, and brought the company to South Carolina from New York three years ago when he was named the SmartState endowed chair in Translational Cancer Therapeutics. Senex is partnering with large pharmaceutical companies to launch the first human trials of a cancer drug at MUSC.

The grant announced Monday follows a $10.5 million grant in 2011 to creating the Center for Oxidants, Redox Balance and Stress Signaling. That grant, housed at MUSC, is exploring ways to curb chronic diseases of the cardiovascular and nervous systems, diabetes and cancer.

USC brought in research grants of $220 million in 2013, the sixth straight year the total topped $200 million.

The USC announcement comes less than a week after Clemson announced an $11 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a biomedical engineering center to study growing human tissues in lab settings.

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