Drug-Discovery Center Attracts $3 Million

UNC’s pharmacy school has received a $3 million gift from philanthropist and pharmaceutical-industry executive Fred Eshelman ’72.

Eshelman’s gift will support the work of the school’s Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery. The center is dedicated to evaluating and developing potential drug targets discovered by UNC faculty.

The UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, one of the nation’s top pharmacy schools, ranks second in total research funding and has the No. 2 doctor of pharmacy program in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Researchers at UNC often discover interesting biological systems that could represent novel drug targets. These targets can be thought of as locks, and the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery studies the “locks” to see whether a pharmaceutical key can be created to stop or start biological processes related to diseases.

The center bridges the gap that exists between the biological sciences that define the basis for disease (the locks) and translational medicine, which creates treatments for patients (the keys). This gap exists at almost all universities and as a consequence, academic drug discovery centers are a growing enterprise, said Stephen Frye ’87 (PhD), the center’s director.

The center has a strong focus on seeking new treatments for cancer. In its seven years of existence, the center has collaborated with more than 45 research groups at UNC and brought in approximately $20.5 million in research funding. This activity has resulted in a number of filed patents and contributed to the creation of two spinoff companies.

“This gift will enable us to advance scientific discoveries made by UNC faculty by creating new medications to benefit cancer patients,” said Frye, who is also one of the pharmacy school’s Fred Eshelman Distinguished Professors. “We are very grateful to Dr. Eshelman for continuing his support of the center and of our collaborations with faculty in the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and across campus.

“Knowing he believes so strongly in our ability to develop new therapies for cancer patients is very motivating for us.”

Eshelman, who founded Wilmington-based PPD Inc. in 1985, has supported the school with gifts totaling approximately $38 million and serves as a member of its board of visitors and as an adjunct faculty member. In 2008, the pharmacy school at UNC was renamed in his honor. Eshelman received the GAA’s Distinguished Service Medal in 2009.

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