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Cancer Drug Discovery

Center of Economic Excellence



Award Amount

$5 million

External Funding Above Match

$20.1 million

Research Focus

Advanced biomedical screening technologies to identify disease mechanisms and targets, and also screening drug candidates. Structural biology for target analysis, chemical biology for designing drug candidates, and advanced biomedical screening technologies.

University Partner

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


Private Sector Partner

Multiple Industry Partners

The SmartState® Cancer Drug Discovery Center provides a framework for target identification and validation, identification of lead compounds and lead optimization, which are all critical phases of the drug discovery process. Thus, the Center provides an interface between academics and the biotechnology/ pharmaceutical industries. This Center also provides support in computational modeling and virtual screening, 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. Dr. Patrick M. Woster, SmartState® Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery, is Director of a drug design and synthesis core that is capable of providing synthetic chemistry and medicinal chemistry support services. His primary research focus is the design, synthesis and biological evaluation of novel small molecules and peptidomimetics exhibiting antitumor or anti-infective activity. Ongoing projects include the discovery of small molecules that promote the re-expression of aberrantly silenced tumor suppressor genes through selective inhibition of histone demethylases, and the identification of new antibacterial and antiparasitic agents for the treatment of malaria, leishmaniasis, African trypanosomiasis and infection by resistant pathological strains of bacteria. Dr. Woster founded a start-up company, Inquisatex Epitherapeutics, LLC, as a means to commercialize his intellectual property.

SmartState® Endowed Chair Dr. John Lemasters is an expert in role of mitochondrial metabolism in pathobiology, especially in relation to ischemia-reperfusion (IR) injury, organ preservation for transplantation, drug/ethanol-induced hepatic injury and cancer. His major research interests relate to mitochondrial and cellular bioenergetics, including studies of the control of mitochondrial metabolism and the role of mitochondrial dysfunction in toxic, IR and cholestatic injury to hepatocytes, cardiac myocytes and organs stored for transplantation surgery. He has established 2 shared resource centers, the Cell and Molecular Imaging Shared Resource and the Center for Cell Death, Injury and Repair. He also provides the SmartState® Cancer Drug Discovery Center with advanced cellular technologies in multi-photon confocal microscopy.

Dr. Mark T. Hamann joined the Center in 2015 as Professor and Charles and Carol Cooper SmartState® Endowed Chair. Dr. Hamann is an internationally recognized natural products chemist who adds expertise in marine natural products that will complement the research focus of the Center, and will significantly enhance the drug discovery effort at MUSC. Dr. Hamann’s research group is actively involved in the isolation, structure assignment using NMR and synthesis of marine natural products with activity against cancer, malaria, tuberculosis and neurological disorders. His group is also involved in the characterization of complex molecules from natural sources using high-field NMR spectroscopy. A combination of synthesis and biosynthesis are utilized together to assemble and optimize complex, biologically active marine natural products.

Since its inception, three additional start-up companies have emanated from the SmartState® Cancer Drug Discovery Center. In 2009, the start-up company SchnellGen, was formed with a mission to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of acute organ failure and wound healing. In 2010, a third startup company was established, MitoChem, with a focus on the role of the mitochondrial function in photoreceptor degeneration, a leading cause of macular degeneration. Subsequently, MitoHealth, Inc. was formed to develop new therapies for acute kidney injury.

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