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The Small Molecule Discovery Center (SMDC) collaborates with academics, government labs, and pharmaceutical companies to develop unique chemical probes and drug leads that address unmet medical needs.

As part of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, we enable innovative technologies for small molecule discovery to further the UCSF mission of advancing health worldwide.

Why now?

Major research institutes, funding agencies, and the public are eager to see academic research lead to advances in human health. This desire is made more acute by the perceived low productivity (see Diagnosing the decline in pharmaceutical R&D efficiency, PDF, 10 pages, 385 KB) and slashed research budgets in the pharmaceutical industry. With less effort going into drug discovery research in the pharmaceutical industry, where will the next generation of drugs be developed? Every day, UCSF scientists work to understand disease and discover potential new therapeutic strategies. We have the opportunity to test these strategies with drug-like molecules, thus facilitating the translation of disease research into starting points for therapeutic development.

New chemical probes with therapeutic potential

The SMDC offers an appropriate mix of industrial and academic expertise needed to advance research programs focused on developing new chemical probes with therapeutic potential. We collaborate with academic labs and pharmaceutical companies to discover compounds that bind to target proteins in vitro or in cells and can be used to modulate protein and cellular functions.

Our research has four key aims

  1. Design probe molecules that can be used to characterize the functions of particular proteins or drive specific cellular phenotypes.

  2. Develop new protein-targeting technologies currently considered undruggable.

  3. Discover compounds that could be turned into drugs for devastating diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, and parasitic diseases of the developing world.

  4. Educate the next generation of drug hunters.

Our tools and technologies include innovative and established methodologies to discover chemical starting points for drug discovery, including medicinal chemistry, high-content imaging, and fragment-based discovery. We collaborate with investigators throughout academia and the private sector. Our scientists are also engaged in grant-funded research focused on important problems in chemical biology. More details: About Arkin Lab and About Renslo Lab.

Why here?

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The Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry is an ideal home for the SMDC. Department research focuses on exploring fundamental biological mechanisms and molecules of therapeutic relevance for better health, empowered by novel technologies at the interface of chemistry, physics, and computational sciences.

An intense focus on collaboration

The UCSF Mission Bay campus, located along the eastern edge of San Francisco, is the perfect location for the SMDC to execute its mission. It is home to several institutes for biomedical research, including the Cardiovascular Research Institute (CVRI), the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub (CZ Biohub), the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and the Gladstone Institutes. The SMDC is affiliated with the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), whose mission is to facilitate interdisciplinary and applied research, support the formation of new science-based companies, and encourage academic-industrial partnerships.

The SMDC is an active participant in each of these aims. At least six new companies have been incorporated using work initiated with us, and we frequently collaborate with new and established pharmaceutical companies. Scientists at the SMDC are actively engaged with drug discovery consortia, including the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium (ADDC), the Chemical Biology Consortium (part of the NCI Experimental Therapeutics (NExT) program), the Tau Consortium, and with pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Genentech, Janssen, and Pfizer, through shared grants and sponsored research.

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