Filling Drug Discovery Niche, Penn Team Helps Move Alzheimer’s Drug Into Clinical Trials

In a layer cake of research labs nestled on separate floors in a remote corner of the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, a new use for an existing drug was uncovered. The drug, epothilone D (EpoD), stalled after original tests as a cancer treatment, but Perelman School of Medicine researchers have found it is effective in preventing further neurological damage and improving cognitive performance in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Now, the drug company is starting to enroll AD patients in clinical trials to test the drug.

While press releases describe what the drug is and does, it’s fascinating to learn how it came to be. It’s not every day that academic researchers go so far beyond identifying a specific target by seeing an agent well into the drug development stages and discovering new uses after its initial clinical testing.

Kurt Brunden, PhD, who spearheads the drug discovery efforts at Penn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research, came to Penn from the pharmaceutical industry, with hopes of progressing the basic research being conducted here and speeding it toward clinical trials. Here, he explains how the process works at Penn, and how teamwork from across the Penn campus has helped make it possible for this academic drug discovery program to be a success.

As Dr. Brunden notes, academia can play a complementary role – alongside the typical research and development might of the pharmaceutical industry — in helping bring much-needed therapeutics into clinical trials as quickly as possible.

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