New pharmacy center a base to battle infectious diseases

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | June 21, 2013

Image with caption: Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D.

Presented a unique opportunity by the upcoming construction of a state-of-the-art pharmacy education and research facility, UNMC opted to go in a bold direction.

Research activities within the Lozier Center for Pharmacy Sciences and Education and Center for Drug Discovery will be especially focused on infectious diseases, making UNMC a leader in a field in which there is worldwide need.

Worldwide, infectious diseases are the leading killer of children and adolescents and are one of the leading causes of death in adults, said Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., dean of the College of Pharmacy.

Bradley Britigan, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine, also is a clinician specializing in the treatment of infectious diseases.

"A focus on drug discovery in infectious diseases is critically important to global human health."


Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D.

"I am very aware of rapidly escalating problem of bacterial resistance to currently available antibiotics that now has the potential to return us to the pre-antibiotic era of medicine," Dr. Britigan said. "Unfortunately, for a variety of financial reasons, pharmaceutical companies are not investing in research to identify new antibiotics."

But in the face of such a void, UNMC steps in to take up the fight.

"A focus on drug discovery in infectious diseases is critically important to global human health," Dr. Fletcher said. "The UNMC Center for Drug Discovery will provide the research environment to foster innovative discovery and development of anti-infective agents to address the need for new drugs."

"No other academic medical center in the U.S. has a drug discovery program with a similar focus," said UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D.

Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences, is a pioneer in developing drugs to treat malaria, and will take a leadership role in the new research emphasis.

He said the new facility, while not expected to open until summer of 2015, already is making its presence felt on campus.

"We are now interviewing faculty candidates who could collaborate with UNMC's Department of Pathology and Microbiology Center for Staphylococcal Research to discover new drugs effective against drug-resistant bacteria," Dr. Vennerstrom said.

The new emphasis will meld with the momentum already happening at UNMC, Dr. Vennerstrom said. Likewise, it's an important piece of UNMC's ongoing emphasis on translational research.

"Our hope is that the Lozier Center for Pharmacy Sciences and Education and Center for Drug Discovery will soon emerge as a globally-recognized brand," said Ram Mahato, Ph.D., the College of Pharmacy's new chairman of pharmaceutical sciences.

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