Dr. Jessica Rouge and Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater Receive Grants Toward Development of Novel Therapeutics 

Researcher in the School of Pharmacy on Nov. 8, 2018. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) recently announced recipients in the inaugural funding round for the Program in Accelerated Therapeutics for Healthcare (PATH). PATH is a partnership that includes the OVPR, the School of Pharmacy, and the School of Medicine to accelerate the translational pathway for researchers to convert their discoveries to new medical therapeutics.

Under PATH, funding is provided to academic research programs designed to quickly develop novel therapeutic approaches focusing on well validated molecular targets for specific disease areas with an unmet treatment need in the current commercial marketplace. Projects focusing on a wide range of therapeutic interventions (small molecule, biologic, antibody, peptide, gene therapy) are eligible for consideration.

Two UConn Chemistry Professors, Dr. Jessica Rouge and Dr. Nicholas Leadbeater were recipients of the PATH grants.

$75,000 PATH Trailblazer Grant Recipient: “Determining the pharmacology of a novel DNAzyme-therapeutic formulation for the treatment of allergic airway disease”

Jessica Rouge’s work focuses on a new nucleic acid delivery platform formed from DNA surfactants that assemble into nanocapsules and have been shown to successfully deliver therapeutic DNA and RNA into cells. Through the support of the PATH grant, the Rouge Group will work in collaboration with Dr. Steve Szczepanek’s Group in Pathobiology to assess the in vivo biodistribution of a DNAzyme delivered using this new nanomaterial. The DNAzyme is known to silence a pro-inflammatory gene involved in asthma by cleaving mRNA. Through these studies, the  pharmacokinetics of the DNA conjugates and the metabolized products will be assessed to determine the translational potential of these DNA nanomaterials.

$10,000 PATH Ascent Grant Recipient: “Towards development of novel therapeutics for treatment of toxoplasmosis”

Nicholas Leadbeater’s project brings together expertise from the Chemistry Department and the Molecular and Cell Biology Department with the objective of developing novel therapeutics for treating toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease caused by Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasma infection is typically asymptomatic in healthy individuals but can result in retinal damage. In immunocompromised individuals, it can cause life-threatening encephalitis. In addition, primary infection during pregnancy can result in mother-to-child transmission and infection of the fetus can cause severe brain damage, blindness, and even stillbirth. Current medications for treating toxoplasmosis block growth but do not kill the parasite; thus they must be taken for long periods of time causing a variety of side effects.

Fabrizio Politano, a Fulbright Scholar working in the Leadbeater Group, has spearheaded the development of a new, more environmentally friendly way to make a class of compounds that could be active against the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The grant will allow the Leadbeater Group to develop a series of compounds and work in collaboration with the Heaslip Group in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology to screen them for activity against the parasite.

Article segment courtesy of Jessica McBride, UConn Today