UTHSC Researcher Glen Palmer, PhD, Receives Grant to Develop Novel Antifungal Target Screening Strategy

Glen Palmer, PhD, has received a $451,625 award from the National Institutes of Health to develop an innovative antifungal chemical screening strategy.

The University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Glen Palmer, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, has received a $451,625 National Institutes of Health R21 award. Dr. Palmer will pursue an innovative antifungal chemical screening strategy titled, “Broad Spectrum Antifungals Targeting Fatty Acid Biosynthesis.”

There are approximately 1.5 million deaths per year due to invasive fungal infections (IFI), and many millions more suffer from debilitating superficial and deep fungal infections. A lack of adequate antifungal therapies has created a desperate need for new approaches to treatment and to combat the rise of resistant fungi. Dr. Palmer and his collaborators will apply a novel chemical assay design to identify physiologically active and fungal selective inhibitors of fatty acid (FA) biosynthesis, specifically fatty acid synthase (FAS) and the Ole1p FA desaturase.

“Our lab has developed a new approach that can dramatically speed up and improve the efficiency of the initial stages of drug discovery,” Dr. Palmer said. “The benefit of this new approach, which we have called Target Abundance Based Fitness Screening (TAFiS), is that it can detect specific chemical interactions with a selected target protein inside live cells. We hope to ultimately adapt similar systems to discover drugs for the treatment of a wide array of infectious diseases.”

During Phase 2 of this study, the antifungal efficacy of the experimental therapeutics identified will be tested against important human fungal pathogens by Dr. Palmer and his collaborators. They will also be tested against isolates that are resistant to current antifungal drugs, and are difficult to treat with existing medications. Finally, the biopharmaceutic, pharmacokinetic and toxicologic properties of selected leads will be optimized. Dr. Palmer is hoping once this study is complete, it will expedite the development of a whole new generation of antifungal drugs that can cure invasive fungal infections that are resistant to current treatment options.

“The advantages of our design are there is no need for purification of the target protein or for expensive biochemical assays,” he said. “The approach can be readily adapted to essentially any target protein, and in a wide array of infectious microbes. We anticipate the approach will shorten the timeline for drug discovery, and simultaneously shrink costs dramatically.”

Dr. Palmer joined the UTHSC faculty in March 2015. He is a geneticist by training, and has multiple collaborations with researchers, including those at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.