MINNEAPOLIS — Researchers from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., are another step closer to developing a drug to combat fungal infections — one of the major problems confronting patients with compromised immune systems. The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics has awarded Mayo biochemist Zhiguo Zhang, Ph.D., and University medicinal chemist Michael Walters, Ph.D., a commercialization grant of $621,934 for the first year of a two-year period. The research team will use the grant for additional studies that will move their drug discovery toward the marketplace.
Finding new drugs to fight fungal infections is critical as the numbers of immuno-compromised patients rise due to HIV, organ transplants, and cancer chemotherapy treatments. In certain fungal infections, the mortality rate exceeds 50 percent and in some cases may be as high as 90 percent. Current drugs are becoming compromised as fungi become resistant to them.
The research team has identified three likely drug candidates — molecule inhibitors that work against a target they previously discovered, Rtt109. From research funded by an earlier Partnership grant, the team screened more than 90,000 compounds to identify the three proteins that inhibit the growth of three of the worst fungal pathogens.
The researchers will use the new funding to screen an additional 130,000 compounds in hopes of finding another two to three inhibitors. The goal is a highly targeted compound that will kill fungal infections without damaging human cells. A patent was filed on the compounds and their use in 2011. The team can apply for extension of the grant for a second year.
The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics is a collaboration among the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic and the state of Minnesota.
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