The University of Maryland School of Pharmacy welcomed more than 200 researchers from across the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and Johns Hopkins University to the first-ever UMB-JHU Joint Symposium on Drug Discovery on Feb. 24. Organized by Paul Shapiro, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) at the School of Pharmacy, and Takashi Tsukamoto, PhD, associate professor of neurology and director of medicinal chemistry for the Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery Program at Johns Hopkins University, the symposium provided an open forum for scientific exchange and interactive communication among students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty from two of Baltimore’s premier academic institutions.
“After more than a year of planning, it is incredibly rewarding to have this opportunity to showcase the robust community of drug discovery research led by our two institutions,” said Shapiro, as he welcomed attendees to the event. “The faculty in our department and the team at Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery are recognized leaders in the field of drug discovery and development, and the opportunities for collaboration among our campuses are truly endless. I am thrilled that we were able to bring this symposium to fruition and excited to work together to improve the drug discovery process.”
New Research in the Field
The half-day symposium featured four presentations from postdoctoral fellows from the School of Pharmacy and Johns Hopkins University. Sarah Zimmermann, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in medicinal chemistry at Johns Hopkins University; Daniel Deredge, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in PSC; Weiliang Huang, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in PSC; and Abhijit Date, PhD, postdoctoral fellow in the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, spoke about their current research – which covered a wide range of topics, including mass spectrometry, proteomics, and drug development for cancer and inflammatory bowel disease – to demonstrate the breadth of drug discovery research at their institutions.
In addition, Shapiro, Tsukamoto, and Barbara Slusher, MAS, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery Program, delivered brief presentations that illustrated the drug discovery capabilities available through the School of Pharmacy and the Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery Program, respectively. Shapiro spoke about the academic programs, centers, and facilities housed within PSC, while Tsukamoto and Slusher addressed the history behind Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery, its current capabilities, and some of the projects on which her team has collaborated.
“Similar to faculty in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, our team at Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery has an extensive background in pharmaceutical research,” said Slusher. “This symposium offers us, as drug discovery researchers from both the east and west sides of Baltimore City, the perfect opportunity to come together, learn from each other, and discuss new studies or projects on which we can collaborate. As one of the symposium’s organizers, it is truly gratifying to have the opportunity to watch this event unfold today.”
An Alumna Returns to the School
The event concluded with a keynote presentation from Rana Rais, PhD, assistant professor of neurology and director of drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics for Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery and graduate of the PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences program at the School of Pharmacy, and Jonathan Powell, MD, PhD, professor of oncology and associate director of the Bloomberg-Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Titled “Novel Metabolic Prodrug Inhibitors for Cancer Therapy,” the presentation brought to life the researcher-practitioner relationship at the heart of each project in Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery.
Rais, who completed her doctorate under the mentorship of James Polli, PhD, the Shangraw/Noxell Endowed Chair in Industrial Pharmacy and Pharmaceutics at the School of Pharmacy, explained the special meaning behind her presentation. “I chose to present this project today because it not only showcases the mission of Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery to collaborate with faculty researchers to transform their discoveries into novel therapeutics, but also because it builds on the knowledge and skills that I gained about prodrugs during my time as a graduate student at the School of Pharmacy,” she remarked.
Following the keynote presentation, participants were invited to attend an evening networking reception, which reinforced the symposium’s mission to foster future collaborative efforts between the two institutions.
“This symposium offered a great opportunity for students and postdoctoral fellows in our department to meet and network with other local researchers in the field of drug discovery,” said Sarah Michel, PhD, professor and director of the PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences program at the School of Pharmacy. “One of the cornerstones of our graduate program is the collaborative atmosphere in which our students are trained. It was truly gratifying to have this chance to expand our collaborative efforts and partner with another one of Baltimore’s premier academic institutions to bring this event to fruition. I hope that it not only encouraged future collaborations among students and fellows, but also among faculty.”
Tsukamoto added, “The turnout at today’s symposium proves what we have known all along – Baltimore is a thriving hub for academic drug discovery. There is so much untapped potential for collaboration between researchers from the School of Pharmacy and Johns Hopkins Drug Discovery, and it is my hope that this event represents only the beginning of many wonderful years of partnership between our institutions.