Shared goals to accelerate drug discovery

Jun 18, 2014


Marvin Meyers, PhD
Director of medicinal chemistry for the Center for World Health and Medicine (CWHM) at Saint Louis University
Stephanie Ogden
Water For People Fellow in Innovation and Sustainability


A few months ago, PATH's Drug Development blog provided an overview of the drug discovery and development process. What is very clear is that, while drug discovery is a very difficult and risky business, the potential benefit for millions of people worldwide makes it all worthwhile. Large pharmaceutical companies have significant resources to help absorb the failures that are inevitable in the drug discovery business. As nonprofit groups working to discover new drugs for diseases in developing countries, we need to do everything in our power to minimize the risk for failure and improve the likelihood for success. This requires partnering between groups that have complementary expertise and resources.



Moving beyond the lab bench

CWHM at Saint Louis University is a relatively new player in the rapidly expanding “academic drug discovery center” phenomenon. Formed in 2010, CWHM is made up of a group of drug discovery scientists with more than 200 years of collective experience in the pharmaceutical industry. This group is essentially a complete drug discovery project team embedded in an academic environment, with expertise in translation of basic science into new drug candidates for clinical trials.

This model of a drug discovery team in an academic environment takes advantage of CWHM's expertise in drug discovery—that is, the teamwork and scientific proficiency needed to successfully identify a potential new drug. However, to be truly successful, CWHM needed collaborators that have expertise in 1) the broad spectrum of diseases that directly affect people in low-resource settings and 2) the design and execution of clinical trials. This is why partnering with PATH through its Drug Development program is critical to the successful identification of a new antidiarrheal drug. PATH has the expertise in both diarrheal diseases and implementation of clinical trials for potential new antidiarrheal drugs.


Targeting diarrheal disease

In 2010, CWHM initiated a project that sought to reposition high-quality inhibitors of neutral endopeptidase (NEP) that had previously failed to reduce blood pressure in clinical trials, yet were demonstrated to be safe for humans. We established preclinical models of diarrhea and began investigating NEP inhibitors for antidiarrheal effect in those models.

Early on, we partnered with PATH's Drug Development program to advance this project. Our collaboration was instrumental in guiding our efforts at a very early stage, and helped to focus our efforts in a manner that kept the need for a clinically relevant agent at the forefront of our thoughts. After working together for a little over two years, we have now identified three high-quality clinical compounds that have demonstrated antidiarrheal effects in preclinical models.


Maximizing impact

What has contributed to our success is teamwork. We discuss results and strategy monthly with our drug development colleagues at PATH. This ensures that our efforts are aligned with the common goal: to identify an excellent treatment for acute secretory diarrhea that will be widely available and convenient for those who need it so that it becomes a drug that will be used to save lives.

The best way to prevent needless deaths from diarrhea in developing countries is through a team effort that combines the strengths of each partner. As we continue our partnership with PATH, we are eager to see what other successes we can achieve together.


More information


·         PATH receives grant to expand drug research for deadly diarrhea

·         Grant to PATH will fund research at SLU's Center for World Health and Medicine

·         PATH's Drug Development program


Photo credit: Jonathan Torgovnik ©