Christina Smolke, PhD, associate professor of bioengineering, has won a Director's Pioneer Award from the National Institutes of Health. The award includes a five-year, $2.5 million grant to be used in highly innovative approaches that have the potential to affect a broad area of biomedical or behavioral research.
Smolke will use her Pioneer Award funding to explore the use of synthetic biology platforms and biosynthesis strategies—the use of microbes to produce complex chemicals—to dramatically advance natural-product drugs. Natural products, and compounds inspired by them, make up the bulk of successful drugs, but challenges to their discovery, synthesis and manufacture limit the number of candidates that can be seriously explored and tested as drugs.
Smolke's approaches could transform the manufacturing scale and efficiency of these microbial systems and make possible the synthesis of an important class of molecules exhibiting diverse pharmacological activities.
"We're working on the tools that will lead to new capabilities for probing natural biosynthetic pathways and shed light on nature's biosynthesis processes. Ultimately, this will lead us to the discovery and scalable synthesis of new and desperately needed therapeutic molecules," said Smolke.