University of Arizona is using AMP-AD consortium tools in new course

A new course at the University of Arizona is using AMP-AD consortium tools to prototype treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. Called “Designing Drugs: From Chemistry to Cure” (or C2C), the course, which began in January, is a semester-long exploration of the drug-discovery pipeline for Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. May Khanna, an assistant professor of Pharmacology for the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson and a member of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science, developed the curriculum to expose students to real-world data and the experience of potentially discovering a treatment.

The mentors for the class include Dr. Jutta Wanner (Arizona Drug Discovery Center co-director), Dr. Marcel Patek (President at Bright Rock Path, LLC) and Dr. Gerald M. Maggiora (retired University Professor and Pharmaceutical Scientist).

“The students were nervous because they are actually doing drug discovery in the class,” said Dr. Khanna. “That’s kind of a scary idea (for them) because there are so many unknowns.”

Working from a list of targets that teams within the AMP-AD consortium have nominated and researched, students, with the help of Dr. Anna Greenwood from Sage Bionetworks, selected from among 500 nascent targets in the Agora visualization tool based on factors such as structure, druggability, and small molecule translatability. From there, the class defined the nomination and has been generating and testing compounds to develop a marketable drug, practicing principles they’ve learned from an accelerated entrepreneurship course.

Technology is playing a key role throughout the semester, from stem cell-derived blood brain barrier chips to undiscovered allosteric pockets, and multi-omics data via the AD Knowledge Portal to computational chemistry packages. Students also have access to a brain trust of experts including chemists, pharmaceutical bioengineers, patients, healthcare and business professionals. The semester culminates with a community event where the students will be able to pitch their idea for a startup and reflect on their C2C experience at UArizona Forge, a new center for entrepreneurs in Tucson.

Dr. Khanna is grateful to members of the AD Consortia who contributed data and analytical tools. “Without Agora and the Knowledge Portal, it would have taken years,” she said. “From day one, we had a list of targets. That’s incredible. It’s the only reason this course has been successfully created.”