About Thomas Bannister
Organic/Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery
The discovery of possible drug candidates is a highly collaborative endeavor, with medicinal chemistry as a core, problem-solving component. My major research efforts are joint projects with world experts in cancer biology and neuroscience, wherein my group provides the organic and medicinal chemistry expertise and drug design insights. In general, we strive to find novel ways to target poorly-treated, common, and devastating disorders that increasingly burden world health care systems.
Neuroscience studies include:
— Biased mu opioid agonists, aiming for a holy grail of sorts: to separate the robust pain relief –provided by opiates from their many unwanted side effects. This collaboration with Laura Bohn’s group has led to findings published in 2017 in Cell, with follow-up chemistry disclosure in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry in late 2018 (featured on the cover). — NOP agonists, for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcohol addiction relapse therapy. — NAD-elevating neuroprotectants, for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases, and for ALS.
Cancer projects include:
— KLF5 inhibitors for colorectal cancer therapy. — TBK1 and IKKi dual kinase inhibitors, for hormone-refractory prostate cancer. — Inhibitors of kinases CK1delta, ASK1, and ULK1, for various cancers. — Modulators of the HIPPO-YAP pathway, for various cancers. — Other exploratory efforts include:
High-throughput screening-based “chemical probe development”, seeking first-in-class small molecules for investigating the therapeutic potential of new target proteins. Probe development efforts encompass multiple therapeutic areas, including treatments for cancers, glaucoma, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Alzheimer’s disease (AD), addiction, infectious diseases, and mood disorders. One chemical probe effort targets the orphan GPCR GPR151, a target that may be relevant for the development of treatments for addiction, depression, and schizophrenia.The discovery of possible drug candidates is a highly collaborative endeavor, with medicinal chemistry as a core, problem-solving component. Our major efforts are thus joint projects with world experts in cancer biology and neuroscience, wherein our group provides the organic and medicinal chemistry expertise.
Our cancer projects target unique metabolic phenotypes of tumor cells, identifying defining molecular characteristics to be exploited for the development of targeted therapies. Most tumor types have a shared reliance upon active transport of nutrients and building blocks to drive rapid cancer cell growth and to sustain survival. They also largely rely upon glycolysis for ATP production (the Warburg effect). As examples, we have created molecules to keep tumor cells from exporting lactate, the end product of glycolysis. We have also designed compounds to block amino acid transporters that are up-regulated by many tumors. We have a program targeting expression of a transcription factor that drives colon cancer progression. We also have a number of kinase inhibitor programs aimed the discovery of treatments for brain cancers, triple-negative breast cancer, hormone-resistant prostate cancer, and perhaps other forms as well. This are collaborative efforts with top TSRI cancer biologists including Derek Duckett, Joseph Kissil, Jun-li Luo, and also including John Cleveland from the Moffitt Cancer Center.
Many of our anticancer programs have a computational chemistry-directed focus, relying on molecular modeling based upon published coordinates, virtual screening, scoring, and validation of predicted hits through chemical synthesis. We use the Schrodinger suite of modeling software in these studies. For future work we may have a need to hire postdoctoral scientists with both computational and synthesis experience. Please contact me for further information.
In our neuroscience studies we are developing GPCR agonists that have targeted effects in the brain. We are exploring GPCR signaling bias in mu opioid receptor activation, aiming for a holy grail of sorts: to separate the robust pain relief provided by opiates from their many unwanted side effects. This collaboration with Laura Bohn’s group has led to pain relievers that seem to be devoid of many of the side effects of morphine and related opiates, such as respiratory suppression, heart rate effects, and GI effects (constipation). In a separate study we identified tool compound with promise in an animal model of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Other exploratory efforts use medicinal chemistry in concert with high-throughput screening or following HTS campaigns, where we seek to discover and optimize “chemical probes”, or first-in-class small molecules that should prove useful for investigating the therapeutic potential of new target proteins. Such probe development efforts encompass multiple therapeutic areas, including treatments for ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, addiction, infectious diseases, cancers, glaucoma, and mood disorders.
One such chemical probe effort, a collaboration with Patsy McDonald, targets the orphan GPCR GPR151, a target that may be relevant for the development of treatments for addiction, depression, and schizophrenia. In a collaboration with Sathya Puthanveettil we are investigating the potential of facilitating the function of kinesin motor proteins as a novel approach to therapies for Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and frontal temporal dementia (FTD), which are poorly-treated, common, and devastating disorders that increasingly burden world health care systems. In a collaboration with Corinne Lasmezas, we are developing compounds that rescue neurons from toxicity of protein aggregates, relevant for developing new therapies for ALS and Parkinson’s Disease.
As you can tell, collaborative drug discovery research is order of the day in my lab!
Members of my group benefit from interactions not only with other chemists but with top biologists and pharmacologists, as they partake in project team meetings as well as in our weekly chemistry group meetings. My research is funded currently by 8 NIH grants on which I am a co-principal investigator and 8 others NIH grants where I am a named investigator or co-investigator.
On occasion I have openings for outstanding postdoctoral fellows in my labs. As mentioned above, an especially good fit would be a postdoc with lab synthesis experience and with prior expertise in using the Schrodinger suite of molecular modeling software, to aid our virtual screening-based efforts. Our postdoctoral scientists collaborate with a team of biological co-investigators, applying knowledge and experience in modern organic, heterocyclic, and/or medicinal chemistry toward an ongoing drug discovery effort. Excellent communication skills, good synthetic organic chemistry laboratory skills, ability to work in the US, and familiarity with modern synthetic techniques and instrumentation are required in this role. Contact me for further details.