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Burnham Awarded $97.9 Million NIH Grant to Expand Small-Molecule Screening and Discovery Center

September 2, 2008

Burnham Institute for Medical Research (Burnham) announced today that it has been awarded a prestigious six-year, $97.9 million Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN) grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Burnham will equip and manage one of four comprehensive small-molecule screening and discovery centers in the nation. Burnham was selected from among some of the nation’s largest and most prestigious universities and medical research institutions.

“We are excited to be awarded a grant of this magnitude from the NIH,” said John C. Reed, M.D., Ph.D., Burnham President and CEO, Professor and Donald Bren Presidential Chair. “Our La Jolla Campus in San Diego, California, along with our new operation to be located at Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida, will comprise a bicoastal small-molecule-based chemical genomics and drug discovery center that will be one of the most advanced in the non-profit world.”

For the past three years, Burnham has participated in the pilot phase of the Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network initiative. During that trial period, Burnham was among the top-performing centers in the nation, helping to set the stage for the NIH grant that will move the Burnham Center for Chemical Genomics (BCCG) into production phase as an MLPCN Comprehensive Screening Center.

MLPCN centers are created to enhance chemical screening to discover the chemical compounds that could become the next generation of medicines. With large collections of chemicals (called chemical libraries) and robotic systems for high-throughput screening, scientists can increase the pace of discovery.

“We will have the capabilities more commonly found in large pharmaceutical companies when it comes to taking the fruits of great basic research and translating them into compounds that could become the prototype medicines of tomorrow,” said Dr. Reed.

Burnham’s new facility at Lake Nona (Orlando) Florida, set to open in Spring 2009, will greatly expand BCCG capabilities with a pharmacology core facility and an ultra-high throughput screening system capable of screening more than 2 million chemical compounds per day. The new facility was made possible with a $350 million incentive package from the state of Florida, along with support from Orange County, the city of Orlando and the Tavistock Group.

The Burnham Center for Chemical Genomics brings diverse approaches to drug discovery. In addition to ultra-high throughput screening capabilities, the center specializes in rapid screening with high-throughput microscopy and other sophisticated approaches. The BCCG has also expanded its capabilities in medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, and has the ability to rapidly synthesize chemical compounds, using microfluidics technology, in a fraction of the time and cost of conventional methods.

In addition to supporting the screening center, the grant will also fund research into sophisticated methods to grow and test tumor cells and stem cells, which will be used to identify chemicals that alter their behaviors.

About the MLPCN Initiative

As genomics research reveals more about the enormous complexity of cell function, new approaches are needed to understand the details. Small-molecule (chemical) probes can be precisely targeted to interact with one site of a cell’s chemical machinery, thus providing information about a specific step in a series of cellular functions. Small molecules may have activities that could go beyond research to therapeutic applications. In addition, they may be used to identify disease-relevant targets in cells, enabling future therapies.

The MLPCN is the second phase of a program begun in 2004 as part of the Molecular Libraries and Imaging Initiative under NIH’s Roadmap for Medical Research–a series of initiatives to address fundamental knowledge gaps, develop transformative tools and technologies and foster innovative approaches to complex problems.

The MLPCN network will use assays–laboratory tests designed to identify specific types of chemicals–solicited by NIH from the research community to screen a collection (library) of more than 300,000 small molecules maintained in the program’s Molecular Libraries Small Molecule Repository. The repository is located in San Francisco at Biofocus DPI, a drug discovery research company. Data generated by the screening are available to the public through PubChem, a database created and managed by NIH’s National Library of Medicine.

About Burnham Institute for Medical Research

Burnham Institute for Medical Research is dedicated to revealing the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Burnham is one of the fastest growing research institutes in the country with operations in California and Florida. The Institute ranks among the top four institutions nationally for NIH grant funding and among the top 25 organizations worldwide for its research impact. Burnham utilizes a unique, collaborative approach to medical research and has established major research programs in cancer, neurodegeneration, diabetes, infectious and inflammatory and childhood diseases. The Institute is known for its world-class capabilities in stem cell research and drug discovery technologies. Burnham is a nonprofit, public benefit corporation. For more information, please visit www.burnham.org.




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