Vanderbilt University expanding research enterprise into Williamson County
by John Howser
With the addition of a new 18,000-square-foot laboratory to be located within the Cool Springs Life Sciences Center, Vanderbilt University is expanding its research enterprise into Williamson County.
The new $7.6 million laboratory will house growth necessary to the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery (VCNDD). Currently operating in Medical Research Building IV and Light Hall on Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s campus, the VCNDD is expanding to occupy additional space within the facility located at 389 Nichol Mill Lane near the CoolSprings Galleria.
The VCNDD received $16.4 million in extramural funding in fiscal year 2011, which helps support the work of 94 Vanderbilt researchers, with significant support coming from the National Institutes of Health, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, Seaside Therapeutics and Johnson & Johnson.
“The Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery is a national model for the future of drug discovery and development, placing Vanderbilt at the forefront of academic institutions that have highly productive partnerships collaborating directly with industry in new ways,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “The additional space for the VCNDD is an exciting next step for research at Vanderbilt, while enhancing our growth plans in Williamson County to include discovery science alongside education and health care.”
Led by Jeff Conn, Ph.D., the Lee E. Limbird Chair in Pharmacology, and Craig Lindsley, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and Chemistry, VCNDD was established in 2011 to accelerate research focused on the development of novel therapeutics for a number of brain disorders including schizophrenia, depression, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Fragile X Syndrome.
“This research group has made tremendous progress since Conn’s recruitment in 2003 and Lindsley’s in 2006,” said Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences. “The faculty and trainees have an amazing track record in terms of basic science discoveries — whether measured by extramural funding, patents for technology transfer or academic research publications. There is great promise in the center’s vision to continue to make breakthroughs in drug discovery that impact the most serious brain disorders,” Wente said.
The Cool Springs Life Sciences Center offers an ideal location for Vanderbilt to expand research capacity for programs that allow for intensive industry partnership. Already home to BioMimetic Therapeutics, the Life Sciences Center facility offers capability for collaboration for Vanderbilt’s programs.
“Availability of this new space comes at a critical time and will have a major impact on our ability to build a world class academic drug discovery group, ” Conn said. “This provides an ideal setting for highly specialized operations within the VCNDD, and will allow us to expand our capacity in medicinal chemistry and drug disposition.”
The VCNDD has recently licensed compounds to Karuna Pharmaceuticals that are ready for early-stage study in humans, and also has projects under way with other major pharmaceutical manufacturers to license compounds and expand related sponsored programs. Since 2006, the center has filed more than 90 composition matter patents and published more than 180 manuscripts while training numerous graduate students and research fellows in the field of drug discovery.
Conn leads the Pharmacology and Neuroscience efforts at the center, while Lindsley directs the Medicinal Chemistry Group. Other members of the VCNDD leadership team are: J. Scott Daniels, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology and director of Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics; Carrie Jones, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pharmacology and director of in Vivo Pharmacology; and Colleen Niswender, Ph.D., associate professor of Pharmacology and director of Molecular Pharmacology.
The Cool Springs Life Sciences Center offers a 15-acre campus that is specifically designed to accommodate the unique needs of all types of life science focused enterprises, including those focused on biomedical drug discovery, medical device development, laboratory testing and biotechnology advances that can advance health care and provide renewable sources of energy from biological sources. The Center includes space for firms of all stages, from basic research, to product development, pilot and commercial scale GMP sterile manufacturing, to large scale commercial enterprises. Space can be custom designed and built for the unique needs of each tenant.