November 19, 2004

New Oates Institute to focus on drug discovery research

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Dan Roden, M.D., right, is the director of the newly launched John A. Oates Institute for Experimental Therapeutics. Jason Morrow, M.D., will take on Roden’s former role as director of Clinical Pharmacology.
photo by Dana Johnson

New Oates Institute to focus on drug discovery research

John A. Oates, M.D.

John A. Oates, M.D.

Drug discovery research is getting a boost at Vanderbilt University with the launch of the John A. Oates Institute for Experimental Therapeutics.

Experimental therapeutics is “the very broad area of understanding how drugs work in the body, why not everyone responds to drugs the same way, and how we can use that information to make better use of the drugs we have and to develop new drugs,” said Dan M. Roden, M.D., William Stokes Professor of Experimental Therapeutics and new director of the Oates Institute.

The science of drug action is familiar territory for Vanderbilt investigators, traditionally those in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology.

“Vanderbilt is famous for Clinical Pharmacology, and that's largely due to the efforts of John Oates, who started the division and set the scientific standards and tone,” Roden said.

Oates, Thomas F. Frist Professor of Medicine, is honored to have the new institute bear his name.

“With the genetic revolution and the rapid advances in molecular science, this is a time of great opportunity for clinical investigation and for the Institute for Experimental Therapeutics,” Oates said. “I look forward to the discoveries that will be made in the institute and to its contributions that will bring safer and more effective therapies to our patients.”

The Oates Institute will serve as a springboard for moving the study of drug action beyond the Division of Clinical Pharmacology into the general culture of the university, Roden said. The new institute will focus initially on three broad efforts: clinical pharmacology, lipid biology, and pharmacogenomics — the science of using the genome to understand variability in drug action. In each of these areas, the Oates Institute will build on significant existing and emerging strengths at Vanderbilt.

“Experimental therapeutics, broadly defined, is one of the areas of current expertise at Vanderbilt, and an area in which the school wants to continue and expand its intellectual investment,” Roden said.

The idea of an Oates Institute has been many years in the making, and the time now is especially ripe for the commitment of space and funds for faculty recruitment, he added.

“The institute will be well-positioned to take advantage of new scientific developments and new areas of scientific priority within the National Institutes of Health,” Roden said, referring to initiatives aimed at “translational research” — research that moves scientific findings from the laboratory bench into human beings.

Having an impact on human diseases through translational research is what “all basic scientists dream of,” said Heidi E. Hamm, Ph.D., Earl W. Sutherland Jr. Professor and Chair of Pharmacology.

“The reality of making that happen is a very challenging and long course, and the Oates Institute will move Vanderbilt forward along that course.” Hamm welcomes the joint recruiting efforts that will grow drug discovery efforts in both the Department of Pharmacology and the Oates Institute.

In turning his attention to building the new institute, Roden will step down as director of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology, a role he has served for 13 years. Jason D. Morrow, M.D., F. Tremaine Billings Professor of Medicine, will become director of Clinical Pharmacology on Jan. 1, 2005. Roden and Morrow will work closely together, since Clinical Pharmacology and its investigators will be key members of the new institute. Morrow also will lead the institute's Center for Lipid Biology.

“It's an incredible time for both the division and the institute at Vanderbilt,” Morrow said. “The university has made a commitment that is unparalleled in terms of advancing experimental therapeutics at this institution.”

“I think it will become a model that the rest of the country will notice and consider themselves as the discipline of Clinical Pharmacology evolves,” said Eric G. Neilson, M.D., Hugh J. Morgan Professor and Chair of Medicine. “Dan has been in a planning phase for the institute for several years, and it is wonderful to see it all come together under his leadership.”

The institute will provide an “intellectual campfire” for all those investigators who are interested in clinical pharmacology research, but hold appointments in other divisions, Neilson added. It will also serve as a training ground for the next generation of experimental therapeutics investigators.

“I see the Oates Institute doing something that John Oates has done all of his career, and that is bringing young investigators into this very exciting field, with the best mentors they could ever have, and advancing their careers,” said Steven G. Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine.

“We are fortunate that there's been a convergence of superb faculty and resources that make this an ideal time for establishing the Oates Institute,” Gabbe said.