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Growth Continues at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology

Published on 10 December 2018

In spring 2017, the Center for Clinical Pharmacology announced the appointment of its first two
faculty researchers. Just over a year later, the center is flourishing with the addition of seven
new faculty and more than 25 postdoctoral research associates, graduate and undergraduate
researchers and technical staff members currently working in its labs.

Housed within 12,000 square feet of dedicated space in the Academic and Research Building, the center represents a unique research partnership between St. Louis College of Pharmacy and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Faculty investigators have joint academic appointments with both institutions, and their work is advancing a research agenda created to find safer and more effective ways to use prescription medications.

“The notion of the center was born more than five years ago,” said Karen Seibert, Ph.D., executive director of the center. “The original principle was to go beyond basic research in pain management to think about human clinical research in analgesia. Now, this center that was built on analgesia pharmacology is diversifying. The research portfolio is expanding, and the center is becoming a research unit.”

Growth at the center took off earlier this year when the College welcomed Tom Burris, Ph.D., FAAAS, FAHA, to campus. Recently appointed as vice president for research at the College, Burris is focused on working to develop and implement a strategic plan for research that enhances overall research capacity, promotes a culture of research excellence and productivity, and raises the College’s research profile nationally and internationally.

“The College is known for its excellence in training pharmacists, but there is great potential for the College to gain prestige for its research impact,” Burris said. “We’re really looking at how we can become a major player in research relative to other colleges of pharmacy.”

Upon joining the College, Burris brought with him approximately $2.3 million in federal funding and a laboratory staff of 10 employees. Burris and his research team are focused on using chemical biology approaches to examine the physiological roles of nuclear hormone receptors and developing drugs targeting them for the treatment of conditions including pain, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

This summer, the center also welcomed Susruta Majumdar, Ph.D. Majumdar holds a primary appointment as an associate professor in the College’s Department of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences and a secondary appointment in the Department of Anesthesiology at the School of Medicine.

With more than a decade of experience in the field of opioid pharmacology, Majumdar is working to synthesize novel chemical probes in order to expand understanding of the preclinical and clinical pharmacology of opioid receptors.

His efforts are aimed at helping to create safer analgesic medications that are less addictive and have less potential to lead to overdose.

“I was drawn to the College because of the opportunity it offered to collaborate with other opioid pharmacologists,” Majumdar said. “It’s exciting because I have colleagues with similar interests who are in the lab right next door to mine and nearby at the School of Medicine. This proximity, combined with the right resources and the right people with the right energy, gives us an opportunity to move the needle very quickly on our research.”

The center saw further growth this fall with the arrival of Bahaa El-Gendy, Ph.D. El-Gendy is a medicinal chemist who holds a primary appointment as an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences at the College and a secondary appointment in the Department of Anesthesiology at the School of Medicine. With a focus on drug design and organic synthesis, El-Gendy and his research team design and synthesize novel small organic molecules as modulators of nuclear hormone receptors for the therapeutic treatment of cancer, fatty liver diseases, Alzheimer’s Disease and atherosclerosis.

“In the next five years, my goal is to have one of our drugs in clinical trials, and I hope to make that happen here at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology,” El-Gendy said.
“This is a vibrant environment, located in a remarkable place with great collaborators, and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”

As the center continues to expand its research capacity, it’s also creating opportunities for students to get involved in research.

This summer, the center launched its inaugural Summer Research Scholars program, designed to introduce students at the College to research in pharmacology, neuropharmacology and neuroscience under the guidance of center faculty mentors. Federal Work-Study opportunities in research are also available, and the center is looking at independent study opportunities for those who don’t qualify for Work-Study.

“Things are really coming together in a wonderful way at the center,” Siebert said. “We no longer think of ourselves as ‘new’ or ‘getting started’. Right now, it’s all about what we’ve accomplished so far and what we’re going to do next.”

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