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A U researcher in a lab

Karen Beckman works in the U's Institute of Therapeutics Discovery and Development.

From hunch to hope

U has new Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development

By Mary Hoff

In a big brick building on Delaware Street in Minneapolis, a tiny vial may hold the beginnings of a drug that someday saves your grandchild's life. The building is home to the University of Minnesota Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development (ITDD), which opened its doors in September 2007 as a premier resource for identifying, testing, and advancing the development of innovative molecule-based solutions to challenging medical problems.

Headed by Gunda Georg, a world-renowned medicinal chemist who joined the University of Minnesota in January 2007, the institute brings together sophisticated technology and some of the best and brightest players in drug discovery from academia and industry. Their job: to help clinicians and biomedical researchers find compounds that produce a desired effect on a specific protein, cell, cellular system, or disease, then modify and refine those compounds so they can be used to do so at a therapeutic level. "We take fundamental discoveries in the areas of biology and medicine and work at converting those discoveries into new therapies or drugs," Georg says.

The institute currently includes more than three dozen researchers, and they can search the institute's library of 200,000 potentially therapeutic molecules for one or more that may treat the problem. Then, aided by computational methods, the molecule can be changed chemically to make it better at doing whatever it is that researchers want it to do--without generating undesirable side effects.

The process starts on a small scale, at the milligram level, then scales up to larger quantities as refinement moves the drug toward preclinical testing. ITDD even has access to facilities that can be used to make compounds of the quality required for use in clinical trials.

In addition to serving the University's researchers, ITDD works with other academic institutions. It also is developing collaborations with private industry.

"We have a dual mission. One part of our mission is research and education," says Vadim Gurvich, the institute's associate director. "The second part of our mission is to provide a service, which is fulfilling the health care and economic development mission of the University."

Gurvich says Minnesotans will benefit from ITDD's presence in multiple ways. Because of the institute's capabilities, he expects it to be a big draw for public and private funding, enhancing the University's research capacity and reputation. He also anticipates it will add an exciting new dimension to the Twin Cities' biomedical industry, attracting new businesses and new jobs.

But the bottom line, he says, is what makes ITDD good not only for Minnesotans, but for people everywhere: the promise of new therapies and new cures for what ails us.