Sanford-Burnham News Archive

National Institites of Health Awards $11.9 M to The Burnham Institute to Establish the San Diego Chemical Library Screening Center

, June 16, 2005

The Burnham Institute has been selected by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as one of nine national centers for high-throughput chemical compound screening, known collectively as “The Molecular Libraries Screening Centers Network”, that will comprise the world’s largest collaborative network focused on drug discovery. Dr. John C. Reed, President and CEO of The Burnham Institute, will direct “The San Diego Chemical Library Screening Center” to be established with $11.9 M awarded over three years by the NIH.

As a member of this national screening network, the Burnham will have access to a library of 2 million compounds, which will be individually tested for medicinal properties using advanced robotic screening instrumentation. The screening center at the Burnham will perform screens of the 2 million compounds against at least 20 disease-targets per year, revealing specific compounds that interact with and inhibit disease-causing proteins.

“The selection of Burnham and our partner organizations to serve as one of the nine national centers for this exciting initiative validates our decision over five years ago to build an innovative drug discovery infrastructure that empowers our scientists to go beyond basic discovery research and invent the new medicines of the future”, said Dr. Reed. “It is also a vote of confidence in the quality of our scientific team. Already, Burnham scientists have contributed in whole or in part to several medications now in use for preventing or treating stroke, heart attack, cancer, nerve degeneration, and Alzheimer’s disease. Armed with the new capabilities provided through the NIH grant, we will be poised to accelerate our efforts 100-fold.”

The Molecular Screening Centers Network is being developed as part of the NIH Roadmap Initiative for expediting medical discovery, implemented by NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.“This tremendous collaborative effort will accelerate our understanding of biology and disease mechanisms," said Dr. Zerhouni. “More importantly, it will, for the first time, enable academic researchers to explore novel ideas and enable progress on a broad front against human disease”.

Information generated by the screening centers will be made available to the public and private sectors through a database maintained by the National Library of Medicine at NIH.

The Burnham Institute’s component of the screening network will be staffed by a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, which includes experts in biology, chemistry, engineering, physics, and computer sciences. Promising compounds identified by robotic screening will be optimized for potency and safety using cutting-edge methods of structure-based drug design. The screening center employs and develops advanced instrumentation and methods for high-throughput automated microscopy, all owing for cell-based screens using high content imaging, as well as performing methods development in Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR)-based drug design, 3D computational modeling, and combinatorial chemistry.

Design and implementation of screening assays, robotic chemical library screening, bioinformatics and data management will be undertaken at Burnham. Participants in the San Diego Chemical Library Screening Center from The Burnham Institute include Kristiina Vuori, M.D., Ph.D. (cell biology), Deputy Director of the Screening Center and Deputy Director of the Institute’s NCI-designated Cancer Center; Jeffrey Price, Ph.D. (engineering), Associate Professor; Mark Mercola, Ph.D. (stem cell biology), Professor; Steve Vasile, Ph.D. (high-throughput screening); Maurizio Pellecchia, Ph.D. (chemistry), Associate Professor; Adam Godzik, Ph.D. (computational biology), Professor and Director, Bioinformatics Program; Andrei Osterman, Ph.D. (computational biology), Associate Professor; and Kutbuddin Doctor, Ph.D. (computational biology). The chemistry efforts to optimize drugs is performed at Burnham and two collaborating San Diego research organizations, the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies (TPIMS), led by Richard A. Houghten, Ph.D., President/CEO, and the Human Biomolecular Research Institute (HBRI), directed by John Cashman, Ph.D., President & CEO.

“This is a merger of immense synergistic talents,” said Dr. Houghten, “that will allow us to advance the discovery of new medicines at a pace heretofore unimaginable. We at TPIMS are very excited to be a part of this historic effort for San Diego and the nation.”

Projects underway at Burnham, TPIMS, and HBRI include design of drugs that selectively kill cancer cells, cytoprotective drugs for reducing cell loss during stroke, neurodegeneration, heart disease, and trauma, drugs that neutralize the anthrax toxin and other bacterial toxins, radioprotective drugs, drugs that suppress inflammation and autoimmunity for diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease, drugs for behavioral diseases including attention deficit disorder, substance abuse, schizophrenia, and bipolar disease, and drugs for pain management.

About Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute

Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute is dedicated to discovering the fundamental molecular causes of disease and devising the innovative therapies of tomorrow. Sanford-Burnham takes a collaborative approach to medical research with major programs in cancer, neurodegeneration and stem cells, diabetes, and infectious, inflammatory, and childhood diseases. The Institute is recognized for its National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center and expertise in drug discovery technologies. Sanford-Burnham is a nonprofit, independent institute that employs more than 1,000 scientists and staff in San Diego (La Jolla), Calif., and Orlando (Lake Nona), Fla. For more information, visit us at

Sanford-Burnham can also be found on Facebook at and on Twitter @sanfordburnham.

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