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Cancer Drug Discovery

Center of Economic Excellence



Award Amount

$5 million

Extramural Research Funding

$18 million

University Partner

Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC)
University of South Carolina

Private Sector Partner

Multiple Industry Partners

The Cancer Drug Discovery Center provides mechanisms for target identification and generation of lead compounds in the drug discovery process, thus creating a productive interface between academics and the biotechnology/pharmaceutical industries. This Center also develops research in structural biology for target analysis, chemical biology for designing drug candidates, and advanced biomedical screening technologies.

The Center’s success is built upon the expertise and resources of its endowed chairs. One of these, Dr. Charles Smith, has formed a drug-screening core that contains chemical libraries with 50,000 compounds. Using this screening core, Dr. Smith and another colleague identified compounds, which inhibit PIM kinases enzymes, which are over-expressed in cancer. An article about this discovery was published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry. Dr. Smith also launched Vortex Biotechnology Corporation in 2009 to create marketable PIM protein kinase inhibitors to treat cancer.

In 2009, another start-up company, SchnellGen, was formed through work of the Center. Its mission is to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of acute organ failure and wound healing. In 2010, a third startup company was established, MitoHealth.

SmartState Endowed Chair Dr. John Lemasters is an expert in the advanced cellular technology of multi-photon confocal microscopy. His projects focus on the role of mitochondria in cell injury in cancer, heart and liver cells. He has identified a potential new therapy for the treatment of hemorrhagic injury, for which he has received funding from the U.S. Department of Defense.

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