Kansas University will become one of only four schools in the country with a program devoted to creating libraries of molecules intended to hasten the development of new drugs.
The university announced Sunday that it has received a $9.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish the Combinatorial Methodology and Library Development Center of Excellence.
The center will serve as an umbrella for 15 researchers, 12 of them from KU. The other three researchers will be from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Iowa State University and Deciphera Inc., a company based in Lawrence.
William Neaves, president and chief executive of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo., said the KU center would "add significantly to the life science initiative in the greater Kansas City area."
KU professor Jeffrey Aube, chairman of the department of medicinal chemistry who will lead the effort, said Friday that KU and Harvard were the only two universities to receive the library development funds this year. Those two schools will join Boston University and the University of Pittsburgh as the only NIH-funded programs devoted to the development of libraries of molecules, he said.
Scientists must test thousands of molecules to find the few that might be turned into a drug. The testing is used in virtually every kind of drug discovery research, including efforts to treat cancer, heart disease, Parkinson's and mental illness.
Aube said the old way of producing a molecule was laborious, and a medicinal chemist could produce only one at a time. But a technique called combinatorial chemistry allows chemists to create large collections of molecules called libraries.
The more molecules the chemists can sift through, Aube said, the more likely they are to find ones for which they are searching.