COLUMBIA, S.C. – The University of South Carolina was awarded an $11.3 million federal grant to create a research center dedicated to finding the next generation of drugs to treat everything from diabetes to cancer. 

The five-year grant is one of the largest competitive awards in the university’s history and will establish the Center for Targeted Therapeutics (CTT) at the school’s South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP) The award is funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which is dedicated to encouraging breakthrough medical discoveries. 

The CTT will: 

  *   Work toward creating new drugs that target the underlying causes of diseases on a molecular level without the adverse side effects common to traditional pharmaceuticals; 
  *   provide mentorship by senior scientists to junior faculty. 
  *   recruit at least six new top-tier junior faculty with a wide range of scientific expertise; 
  *   provide competitive pilot grants to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration across research fields. 

USC pharmacy professor Igor Roninson, who holds the SmartState endowed chair in Translational Cancer Therapeutics, will lead the new center. CTT’s initial projects will include researchers finding ways to combat cancer and neurological diseases. 

“The big pharmaceutical companies are not doing the type of research we can do in a university setting. 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 knows this first hand. He is founder of Senex Biotechnology<>, which develops targeted drugs based on discoveries in his lab.  Roninson brought the company to South Carolina from New York three years ago, and the company is now setting up a partnership with larger pharmaceutical companies to launch the first human trials of its most advanced cancer drug at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). 

The new CTT also will include researchers at MUSC, which with USC is a founding partner of the SCCP. Roninson said the work at CTT could lead to patents for new pharmaceuticals developed at the center, clinical trials, corporate partnerships, and eventually to revolutionary new drugs. 

"‘Targeted Drug Therapy’ is one of healthcare's most vital research areas and it is an expertise the College has been building for several years,” said Randall C. Rowen, interim executive dean of the SCCP. “We recruited Dr. Roninson because he is one of the most gifted scientists in this field; this COBRE grant, which is the College's second, illustrates what a great addition he has been to a very strong drug discovery program." 

In 2011, SCCP became the principal base of a $10.5 million COBRE grant to create 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 is the only research institution in South Carolina to earn the Carnegie Foundation’s highest ranking of “Very High Research Activity.” It has earned more than $200 million in research awards for six straight years, with awards totaling $220 million in 2013 alone. 

Prakash Nagarkatti, USC’s vice president for research, notes “In addition to the prestige it brings to USC, this new COBRE Center represents a wonderful opportunity for our university to have a tangible, positive impact on global health. Additionally, the emphasis this grant places on recruiting highly talented junior scientists, will help us continue to build a strong foundation of faculty expertise in the health sciences.” 

About the South Carolina College of Pharmacy 

The South Carolina College of Pharmacy (SCCP) was formed in 2004 through the integration of the Colleges of Pharmacy at the University of South Carolina in Columbia (USC) and the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston (MUSC). The SCCP is a statewide education, research and service institution that combines the nationally recognized faculty, staff and resources of MUSC, a major academic medical center; USC, a large comprehensive university; and Greenville Health  System, a large progressive hospital system, to create a statewide approach to pharmacy education that is on par with some of the most highly regarded colleges in the United States. 

About COBRE awards 

COBRE awards are made possible through the National Institutes of Health to support an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Center of Biomedical Research Excellence. The IDeA program builds research capacities in states that historically have had low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research; faculty development; and infrastructure improvements.