The leaders of the San Antonio Partnership for Precision Therapeutics (SAPPT) awarded $400,000 in grants to two bioscience research teams, bringing the total to seven projects funded by the SAPPT in 2020. SAPPT distributes funding to researchers advancing the field of precision therapeutics, which is the development of drug therapies for specific populations based on genetics, lifestyle and environment.
A research team led by Staff Scientist Dr. Jonathan Bohmann of Southwest Research Institute received one of the newly-awarded grants for their work using computer aided drug design to pinpoint therapies for emerging viruses. The team is using SwRI’s Rhodium® software to screen and analyze drugs and other biologically active molecules to find treatments for the Nipah and Hendra viruses, infectious diseases emerging in Australia and Southeast Asia. Rhodium has become a vital tool for researchers, aiding in drug discovery and development.
“We are taking our experience using Rhodium for COVID-19 therapeutic discovery, and applying lessons learned to these emerging viruses,” Bohmann said. “This leading computational platform allows us to quickly and accurately screen thousands of drug candidates and understand which ones should move forward into safety testing.”
Studying the highly pathogenic and easily transmissible viruses requires biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facilities, available to the team through Texas Biomedical Research Institute. Researchers from The University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health San Antonio are also part of the team studying the Nipah and Hendra viruses and potential treatments.
The second project funded in this grant cycle focuses on factors involved in the development and progression of HIV. There has been extensive research over the past three decades to develop effective interventions to combat HIV, yet it continues to remain a significant public health concern. The clinical outcomes of HIV are highly variable. While a majority of HIV patients cannot control the virus without drugs, a small percentage is able to control the virus naturally.
Texas Biomedical Research Institute Assistant Professor Smita Kulkarni, Ph.D. and her team are studying how genetic and epigenetic factors interact with the virus and their role in infection outcomes in certain populations. In this project, Dr. Kulkarni and her team will develop what is known as “CRISPR-based” molecular tools. CRISPR technology is a simple yet powerful tool that allows researchers to easily alter DNA sequences and modify gene function.
The team’s goal with this project is to develop a functional cure for HIV infection through alternative strategies that can offer durable protection. The information gathered from this project will be applicable beyond HIV.
SAPPT is a collaborative effort among Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed), The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), and UT Health San Antonio. This powerful partnership aligns the unparalleled bioscience capabilities and resources available in San Antonio to improve health care in Texas and beyond. The partnership focuses on creating breakthrough treatments tailored to specific patient populations, while serving as a model to improve health care in San Antonio, statewide and globally. The field of precision therapeutics integrates precision medicine with the drug discovery pathway, including basic research, compound development, formulation, testing, production and clinical trials leading to new FDA-approved treatments. For more information on the partnership, visit SAPPT.org.