Novel drug development topic of Distinguished University Professor Lecture Jan. 29

January 27, 2015 | Events, Research, UToday, Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
By Lindsay Mahaney

With a wealth of experience in medicinal chemistry, Dr. Paul Erhardt will give a talk on some of his groundbreaking findings this week.



Erhardt’s presentation, “How Evolution of Medicinal Chemistry and an Academic-Based Drug Discovery Center Led to SEARMs: Novel ‘Selective Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Modulators’ From Soybean,” is part of the Academic Honors Committee Distinguished University Professor Lecture Series, which will take place Thursday, Jan. 29, at 4 p.m. in Collier Building Room 1000B on Health Science Campus.

A reception will follow the free, public event.

Erhardt serves as the director of the Center for Drug Design and Development. The primary purpose of the center is to promote health-related interdisciplinary research programs and to facilitate collaborations between the academic and private sectors so useful technologies can be effectively matured and ultimately delivered to the marketplace for the benefit of the public, Erhardt said, noting that the center was one of the first of its kind.

“It turns out, God loves us; our Center for Drug Design and Development has been ahead of the game,” he said with a laugh. “Twenty years ago when we first fired up — although it was not me who facilitated that — there might have been maybe three, at most five, academic-based drug discovery centers in the entire country. And we were one of them.”

In the last five years, nearly 100 centers have been built, Erhardt said. The work the center has done has led to numerous projects that helped evolve modern medicinal chemistry. One project that will be the focus of the talk is developing a new compound derived from soybeans.

“Picture Sean Connery in the jungle scene of ‘Medicine Man,’ up above the canopy swinging around, trying to get these natural products from species of insects and plants that are being wiped out,” he said. “We do need to preserve those medications, but it turns out you can go in your own backyard and you can take your common soybean to do the same thing.”

Both men and women have estrogen, the hormone that produces female qualities, and androgen, the hormone that produces male qualities. The level a person has of each hormone differs based on sex. However, these two compounds don’t interact with each other, despite everyone having both, Erhardt explained.

But when you take the soybeans from your backyard and expose them to harsh conditions, a defense mechanism releases phytoalexins to protect the plant. This class of compounds hasn’t been fully researched, Erhardt said, but it appears that it can interact with both estrogen and androgen receptors. At this stage, scientists are still testing the new compound by combining selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) and selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) — compounds that act on their respective receptors — to create for the first time a result being coined as selective estrogen androgen receptor modulators (SEARMs).

“Breast cancer, which occurs in men, too, or prostate cancer, could benefit conceivably from both an androgen and estrogen blocker,” he said. “There’s no such thing in existence, until maybe now. We have to test these things out.”

Despite his intensive research and academic achievements, Erhardt said he wants the take-home point of his talk to be the importance of the Distinguished University Professor designation.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Distinguished University Professor award,” he said. “Academia is an interesting place, and I think the Distinguished University Professor Lecture Series is part of that. I can go to these lectures and I can hear somebody in a completely different field who has excelled to some level that they’re doing good things in that field, and I can get a different insight to what I do. That, to me, is a very refreshing experience.”

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