CINCINNATI—The University of Cincinnati (UC) and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center will partner with Evotec AG of Hamburg, Germany, to enhance the potential for innovative drug discovery in southwest Ohio.
The Computational Medicine Center (CMC)—an Ohio Third Frontier–funded research collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and UC—has purchased Evotec Technologies’ Ultra-High-Throughput Screening (uHTS) system to quickly screen drug targets against large quantities of chemical compounds.
This $2.8 million screening system will be housed at UC’s Genome Research Institute (GRI), and will allow Cincinnati Children’s and UC, and eventually researchers from throughout Ohio, to take their drug research many steps further in-house—making it much more marketable.
Evotec Technologies will establish U.S. operations in Cincinnati to support the project.
“The partnership with Evotec will essentially allow us to ‘fill in the middle’ of the drug discovery process,” said Jane Henney, MD, senior vice president and provost for health affairs at UC’s Academic Health Center. “We’ll be able to produce well-tested drug candidates here at UC and Cincinnati Children’s that have a much higher likelihood of becoming an actual therapeutic. This equipment will allow us to do what many pharmaceutical companies do. The further we are able to take an idea, the more valuable it is.”
It’s that opportunity for commercialization that attracted Evotec to Cincinnati and the GRI.
“We visited academic institutions across the United States and found that the quality of science and the entrepreneurial spirit in Cincinnati was just what we were looking for in our first North American academic partner,” said Erich Greiner, MD, executive vice president for science at Evotec. “The environment here is quite unique and we’re very excited about this strategic relationship.”
"Evotec Technologies is delighted about providing the GRI with both the technology platform and the know-how to run a state-of-the-art uHTS screening facility in Ohio. We are committed to establish U.S. operations in Cincinnati in the course of 2006,” said Professor Carsten Claussen, CEO of Evotec Technologies. “We will also install an application lab to provide access to our cutting-edge drug discovery instruments. We are convinced that our pool of technologies, combined with the strong academic environment, will be highly attractive to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies."
Evotec, which also specializes in finding new treatments for diseases of the central nervous system, is an ideal partner for Cincinnati Children’s and UC, said Thomas Boat, MD, director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation and chair of pediatrics at UC.
“Evotec has established itself as a world-wide leader in drug discovery and development,” said Dr. Boat. “Our partnership with them goes much further than the purchase of this equipment. We hope to collaborate with them on future projects in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries.
“We see their presence here as a magnet to attract other companies to the region.”
The UC/Cincinnati Children’s collaboration is unique compared with other academic centers, officials from both institutions say.
“Other centers concentrate heavily on basic science research, but aren’t as focused or equipped to move discoveries through the necessary preclinical and clinical phases,” said George Thomas, PhD, interim director of the GRI and genome science department at UC. “Having the same equipment on site that pharmaceutical giants use themselves to further narrow drug targets puts us at quite an advantage. I’d say were part of a pretty exclusive club.”
Cincinnati Children’s and UC scientists use their biological, chemical and computational expertise to research and identify possible new drugs. They do this by identifying drug targets—the proteins responsible for body processes that affect the progression of disease.
When a possible target protein is identified, scientists create an assay—a biological test used to determine whether compounds have a desired effect on the protein. Cincinnati Children’s and UC scientists will then send the assay through the Ultra-High-Throughput Screening system, where they are exposed to tens to hundreds of thousands of chemicals.
Following the screening, an entire chemical “library” of possible compounds is narrowed down to a manageable number of possible candidates.
It’s at this point that biological researchers turn to medicinal chemists to determine which of the selected compounds can best be used to alter the way the targeted protein functions.
The compounds are chosen on the basis of their ability to perform the necessary task. But chemists are also looking for the least toxic compound, and want to find something that will have few or no side effects.
Once identified, potentially useful compounds, or “drug candidates,” are then further tested in the laboratory, licensed or sold to biotech or pharmaceutical companies for continued development.
Computational Medicine Center (CMC)
A collaboration between Cincinnati Children’s and UC, the CMC uses data and computational systems to prevent, predict and treat disease on a personal level. Funded by Ohio's Third Frontier Project and the NIH, the center employs a team of research physicians and experts in bioinformatics, genomics, genetics, epidemiology, computer science, math and statistics to improve the health of every generation. The center will be housed in a new 12-story, $125 million research building under construction on the Cincinnati Children's campus. Additional space will be available in a $109 million research building also under construction at UC’s Academic Health Center.
Genome Research Institute (GRI)
The GRI, founded in 2001 with a gift of land and facilities from Aventis Pharmaceuticals and funded by the Ohio Third Frontier Project, is home to internationally recruited scientists researching the genetic basis of some of the world’s most serious and prevalent diseases, including obesity, heart disease and cancer. Besides Cincinnati Children’s and Evotec, the GRI has partnerships with the Air Force Research Laboratory, Procter & Gamble, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Ohio Supercomputer Center and Wright State University.
Evotec specializes in the discovery and development of new, small-molecule drugs. Both through its own discovery programs and contract research partnerships, Evotec provides research results to partners in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Evotec’s main focus is in finding new treatments for diseases of the central nervous system (CNS). The company also provides innovative and often integrated solutions from drug target to clinic through a range of capabilities, including early-stage assay development and screening through to medicinal chemistry and drug manufacturing.
Evotec Technologies GmbH
Evotec Technologies GmbH (ET), a subsidiary of Evotec AG, manufactures confocal detection devices, cell handling devices and Ultra-High-Throughput Screening (uHTS) systems. The company is focused on high-end technologies for automated cell biology. Evotec Technologies employs 80 people, primarily at its main site in Hamburg.