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Research Areas

While pursuing new initiatives in Clinical and Translational Sciences, Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery, the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences continues to build in its core areas of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Biophysics, Toxicology and Cancer Pharmacology, as well as in Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research.

Pharmaceutical Biotechnology

With its roots in classical pharmaceutics, Pharmaceutical Biotechnology focuses on newer macromolecular pharmaceuticals such as proteins and nucleic acids.

Especially relevant for vaccines and therapeutic antibodies, this area of study – focusing on stability, formulation and targeted delivery – presents new challenges and demands new approaches. One such new approach that is being employed to target delivery of drugs and genes in a variety of diseases is the rapidly expanding discipline of Nanotechnology.

With co-directors from both DOPS and the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder, the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology is recognized for its innovative research, excellence in PhD education and annual conferences attracting scientists from around the globe.

Molecular Biophysics explores the thermodynamic and kinetic mechanisms responsible for biological regulation. Areas of emphasis include analysis of transcription factor-gene promoter interactions; characterization of viral assembly and DNA packaging and studies of protein stability and misfolding in human diseases. Faculty in this area collaborate extensively in both research and teaching courses in Structural Biology.

Molecular Toxicology focuses on elucidation of molecular mechanisms of toxicity of drugs and pollutants and includes metabolic, pharmacogenomic and proteomic approaches. These techniques allow studies of individual susceptibility and isolation of predictive biomarkers of toxicity. Areas of specialization include the role of aldehydes and lipid peroxidation in toxicity, coordinated induction of cellular defense systems against toxic insults, immune mechanisms of drug-induces liver injury, the toxicological implications of oxidative stress and aberrant protein handling in neurodegenerative diseases.

Cancer Pharmacology focuses on signaling mechanisms critical in obtaining the desired response associated with chemotherapy and cancer prevention. Areas of emphasis include chemoprevention by natural products, the role of apoptosis in chemoprevention, and the mechanisms of anticancer activity of heat shock protein 90 inhibitors. Structure based drug design and mining natural product libraries for drug discovery are also areas of focus.

Clinical and Translational Sciences is a new initiative spearheaded by faculty examining the importance of pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and pharmacogenetics that influence clinical response particularly in the area of HIV and diabetes therapy. Center for Translational Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacogenomics was developed to provide a focus in this area of clinical pharmacology for investigators across the campus and region. The Translational Epilepsy Program is a joint initiative with the Department of Pediatrics, School of Medicine and The Children’s Hospital to facilitate mechanistic research and drug discovery in epilepsy.

Medicinal Chemistry is traditionally associated with pharmaceutical sciences and the department has emphasized the role of medicinal chemistry in drug discovery. Areas of focus include structure based drug design, computational modeling of drug-target interactions and natural product chemistry. The medicinal chemistry focus is supported by three integrated drug discovery cores.

Drug Discovery core facilities have been initiated in three inter-connected disciplines. The Computational Chemistry and Biochemistry core provides molecular docking studies, pharmacophore modeling, ligand design, virtual screening of compound libraries and computational modeling of protein-protein interactions. The Medicinal Chemistry core facility performs synthesis, analysis, metabolic studies and assistance in lead compound optimization. The High Throughput Screening (HTS) core facility performs validation of screens for applications and screening of compound libraries against potential therapeutic targets. The HTS core facility is part of the regional Colorado Drug Discovery initiative funded by the State of Colorado.

Since many of the research applications in DOPS require structural information, the department operates a Mass Spectrometry core facility which provides analytical resources for both small molecule and protein analysis.

Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research is one area of expertise in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and is led by faculty in the Center for Pharmaceutical Outcomes Research. One area of expertise is Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER). This is a type of health services research that emphasizes real world health care utilization (as opposed to tightly controlled settings as in regulatory trials), active treatment comparators, and heterogeneous patient populations (as opposed to highly selected populations as in clinical trials), thus enhancing generalizability. CER also includes patient-centered assessment methods and measurement research that enhance the ability to include the patients’ perspective in research. One such study involved the metrics of medication regimen complexity and an associated tool for electronic data capture of these metrics.