February 16, 2007

Drug discovery efforts land Conn two awards

Featured Image

Jeff Conn, Ph.D., is the first person to receive two ASPET awards in the same year. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Drug discovery efforts land Conn two awards

Jeff Conn, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University Medical Center's drug discovery guru, has achieved the scientific equivalent of a grand slam.

He is the first person to receive two major awards in the same year from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), one of the oldest and most prestigious science organizations:

• The 2007 Pharmacia-ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics; and

• An ASPET-Astellas Award in Translational Pharmacology.

“It's extremely gratifying,” said Conn, who directs the Pharmacology Department's Program in Translational Neuropharmacology and the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology's Program in Drug Discovery.

The awards recognize “what we're doing at Vanderbilt … this new focus on bridging the basic sciences and therapeutic discovery with early-stage drug discovery in an academic setting,” added Conn, a professor of Pharmacology.

“These awards attest to Jeff's major impact as world leader in the early stage drug discovery process,” said Elaine Sanders-Bush, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt, and current ASPET president.

“Vanderbilt is fortunate to have such an accomplished scientist who is passionate about discovering new therapies for serious brain diseases,” said Sanders-Bush, who mentored Conn's graduate work at Vanderbilt in the 1980s.

“Jeff is one of the brightest scientists I know,” added Darryle D. Schoepp, Ph.D., vice president of Neuroscience Discovery Research at Eli Lilly & Co., who received the Pharmacia-ASPET Award in 2002.

“His work has greatly enhanced our current understanding of brain disorders and new approaches to treatment,” Schoepp said. “His multidisciplinary approach to research from the beginning has been a key reason for his success and makes him quite unique.”

Conn is an established leader in the field of metabotropic glutamate receptors, which play important roles in brain disorders such as Parkinson's disease. He currently is searching for compounds that “potentiate” the activity of a specific receptor, mGluR4, but which do not affect the activity of other glutamate receptors.

“Jeff Conn exemplifies Vanderbilt's goal to make the most important, fundamental discoveries, and then to complete the cycle of innovation by translating these discoveries to improvements in human health,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research at Vanderbilt.

“A major portion of our research enterprise strategic plan is now focused on therapeutic discovery,” Balser said. “Jeff Conn's outstanding progress in advancing drug discovery in an academic setting is a huge step toward realizing that goal.”

"Jeff Conn's recent Discovery Lecture demonstrated to our students and faculty the groundbreaking research efforts he is leading here at Vanderbilt,” added Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

“These awards are an unprecedented honor for Jeff, his research team, and Vanderbilt.”

The awards will be presented April 28 during the Experimental Biology annual meeting (co-sponsored by ASPET) in Washington, D.C.


The Pharmacia-ASPET Award in Experimental Therapeutics

Funded by an endowment from Pharmacia (now Pfizer) and ASPET, the award recognizes outstanding research “that has had, or potentially will have, a major impact on the pharmacological treatment of disease,” according to ASPET.

The first recipient, in 1969, was John A. Oates, M.D., Thomas F. Frist Professor of Medicine, professor of Pharmacology and founder of Vanderbilt's Division of Clinical Pharmacology.

The ASPET-Astellas Awards in Translational Pharmacology

Funded by a grant from the Astellas Foundation, the awards were given for the first time this year. They recognize “novel pharmacologic approaches or technologies that may offer significant advances in clinical medicine,” according to ASPET.

ASPET-Astellas awards were also given to Kathryn A. Cunningham, Ph.D., director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, and Liewei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine.