UTSA to Establish Preclinical Pharmacology Core and Young Investigator Awards with $1.7 Million Gift from Voelcker Fund

Voelcker-Fund.jpegThe trustees of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund have awarded the College of Sciences and chemistry professor Doug Frantz $883,000 to establish the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker CIDD Preclinical Pharmacology Core for Accelerated Drug Discovery. The core will be part of UTSA’s Center for Innovative Drug Discovery. Led by director Stanton McHardy, the CIDD catalyzes collaborations with investigators by providing services and expertise related to small-molecule drug discovery and preclinical drug development.  Another $900,000 will support the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Young Investigator Awards, which will help advance two rising superstar faculty members.

Researchers in the core will work with the CIDD’s High-Throughput Screening Core Facility and the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Medicinal Chemistry Core Facility. They will also collaborate with UTSA’s Stem Core Facility to develop innovative technologies that determine the cardiovascular safety of all new drugs under development.

Preclinical pharmacology is a critical piece of the drug discovery pipeline. It allows researchers to optimize potential new drugs by studying various aspects of toxicology, including absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion. Each of these is needed to file an Investigational New Drug application to the federal Food and Drug Administration.

“The [pharmacology core] will provide the missing link in San Antonio’s drug-discovery ecosystem.”

Previously, the CIDD had to outsource all preclinical pharmacology, which resulted in significant costs and lengthy delays. The Voelcker Fund’s award will allow researchers to save valuable time and resources.

The Voelcker Fund supports research that finds cures for medical diseases. “The medical research capabilities of the CIDD are unlimited,” said Banks Smith, a Voelcker Fund trustee. “Its work accelerates the discovery of cures for diseases.”

Researchers in the CIDD will utilize the core’s cutting-edge late-stage preclinical pharmacology and translational drug development capabilities to launch new therapies in a broad range of indications, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegeneration, chronic pain and infectious diseases.

The addition of the core provides a unique suite of industry-level services to South Texas biomedical researchers. Frantz believes that the core will help establish new collaborative opportunities between UTSA, UT Health San Antonio, Texas Biomedical Research Institute and Southwest Research Institute.

“The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker CIDD Preclinical Pharmacology Core for Accelerated Drug Discovery will provide the missing link in San Antonio’s drug-discovery ecosystem and allow local researchers to rapidly identify the best drug leads to move forward into the clinic,” said Frantz.

Learn more about the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery at UTSA.

A portion of the funds will also support the CIDD Undergraduate Summer Internship, which offers a research-focused laboratory experience for undergraduate students. Student support accelerates research in fields such as cancer and heart disease.

“Under this new summer internship opportunity, selected undergraduate students in the College of Sciences will undergo an intensive 10-week hands-on laboratory experience to train them in the skills and techniques required for a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Frantz.

Frantz, who holds the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Distinguished Professorship in Chemistry, cofounded the CIDD in 2012. Since that time, the center has participated in over 50 novel drug-discovery programs across a range of therapeutic areas, which has resulted in over 25 peer-reviewed publications, over 15 invention disclosures and more than $17 million in extramural funding.

— Lauren Moriarty