PITTSBURGH, July 23, 1999 — The University of Pittsburgh today announced the creation of the Center for Pharmacogenetics in the School of Pharmacy. The center is one of the first in the nation in a school of pharmacy.
The primary mission of the center will be to study the interface between drug response and genetics. Ultimately, the center aims to improve the discovery of new drugs and to optimize the delivery of drugs to provide the best therapy for a given patient. Center investigators will conduct basic investigations employing the latest genetic tools to discover new pharmacologic agents, in addition to using information derived from human genome sequences. These basic science explorations will form the foundation for the center to develop novel drugs or drug usage information based upon genetic studies.
"The Center for Pharmacogenetics in the School of Pharmacy will lead the university’s efforts in the emerging field of pharmacogenetics and will integrate with the Schools of the Health Sciences’ broad initiative in genetics," commented Arthur Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor, Health Sciences, and dean, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh.
Leaf Huang, Ph.D., professor of pharmaceutical sciences, will direct the new center, according to Randy Juhl, Ph.D., dean of the School of Pharmacy, who added, "Dr. Huang is a well-known and widely respected molecular biologist. We look forward to his valuable leadership as the center develops."
Research in pharmacogenetics is badly needed to address problems of drug response, drug delivery and drug discovery, according to Dr. Huang.
"One typical problem is that some people who receive a life-saving drug do not respond to it at all. This lack of response may be due to several reasons," said Dr. Huang. "For instance, a nonresponder may process, or metabolize, a drug so quickly that it doesn’t have time to work. Alternatively, a nonresponder may lack cell receptors that are necessary to capture a circulating drug and trigger a cascade of molecular events that are responsible for a drug’s effects."
Dr. Huang and his collaborators will investigate the ability of DNA fragments or full-length genes to affect specific molecular targets identified by center scientists. Investigators may use these agents to bind directly to a cell’s own genetic information, thereby altering the function of other genes that control a person’s response to drugs. Alternatively, these agents may be used as mini-factories to produce drugs or co-factors that allow drugs to work better within the body. Pharmacogenetics faculty also will study the ways that inherited genetic differences affect how someone responds – both therapeutically and adversely – to a drug. In addition, studies will explore genetic differences in the rate and extent of drug absorption, drug metabolism, and the distribution and elimination of a drug.
Dr. Huang, formerly a professor in the department of pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine for eight years, has an active federally supported research program in drug targeting directed towards the development of non-viral gene therapy delivery systems. He is also a collaborator in several animal and clinical trials of gene therapy to treat cervical, ovarian and breast cancers, melanoma, cystic fibrosis and Canavan’s disease (an inherited metabolic disorder). From 1991 to 1997 he served as editor-in-chief of The Journal of Liposome Research and is currently the associate editor of Gene Therapy.