The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Drug Discovery and Synthesis of Natural Products

The Challenge

Efficiently discover and produce natural product-derived candidate therapeutics.

The Innovation/Technology

An engineered ‘BioFoundry’ plant tissue culture and microbial platform from screening to production.

The Impact

New classes of therapeutic candidates to treat infectious disease, inflammatory conditions, cancer and other disorders.

The Solution

Natural products and their derivatives have long been a rich source of therapeutics, particularly in areas such as infectious disease and cancer. Approximately 25 percent of prescription drugs are plant derived; in cancer the percentage of approved natural product-based compounds is close to 50 percent. However, the chemical diversity in natural products has remained largely unexplored, in part due to challenges in both identifying promising bioactive specialized metabolites, which may only be produced under certain conditions such as environmental stress, and in producing sufficient quantities for both study and treatment.

The emerging ‘Biofoundry’ engineering platform identifies and synthesizes novel bioactive compounds by exploiting the molecular design machinery of plant and microbial species. The approach involves:

  • inducing specialized metabolite synthesis in cell culture through application of stress-mimicking compounds,
  • drug screening in disease specific assays,
  • production in quantity for preclinial development through the design and optimization of artificial biosynthetic pathways and host systems, and
  • engineering new molecules with tailored properties based on the discovery of novel enzymes and their integration into biosynthetic pathways

The Biofoundry is catalyzed by a unique ~2000 species plant tissue culture collection representing almost 10 percent of plant genera and 50 percent of plant families. The collection remains largely unexplored for therapeutic compounds.

The Biofoundry team combines the strengths of UMass Amherst scientists and engineers with the UMass Medical School’s Small Molecule Screening Facility and Northeastern University’s Antimicrobial Discovery Center. Biofoundry welcomes corporate collaborators and investors to further accelerate the discovery and development of new therapies.

 
Contact Info

Elizabeth Vierling
vierling@biochem.umass.edu