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The value of bringing biomedical and plant scientists together

The Center for Medicinal Chemistry (CQMED) serves as a resource for researchers investigating new therapeutic targets with medicinal chemistry. Credit: Roberta Ruela

The use of genomics to advance discovery is central to many fields, yet the unique methods and applications developed in one field rarely cross to another. The University of Campinas (UNICAMP), in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has established a unique approach to overcome that problem. Working with funding from State of São Paulo Founding Agency (FAPESP) and other sources, UNICAMP developed two public-private partnerships, one dedicated to biomedical science and another to plant science. By fostering shared methods, concepts and principles through proximity and informal collaboration, UNICAMP hopes to accelerate research in the areas of human disease and agriculture.

A new approach to medicinal chemistry

UNICAMP’s Center for Medicinal Chemistry (CQMED) is designed to advance the understanding of human biology and the discovery of new therapeutic targets through medicinal chemistry. The center, which began in 2015 as a partnership between the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), UNICAMP and FAPESP, was founded to study the therapeutic potential of understudied human kinases, following the SGC open science model. Since then, the center’s mandate expanded to other human protein families and to neglected and emerging infectious diseases.

The center serves the Brazilian academic and industrial communities by providing access to cutting-edge technologies and expertise in target-based drug discovery. Early-career scientists regularly arrange brief residencies at

Structure of inhibitor binding to calcium/calmodulin-dependent protein kinases (CAMKK1) Credit: UNICAMP CQMED

CQMED to investigate targets of interest. The center also offers periodic workshops to graduate students and post-docs, where they gain hands-on experience with an early-phase, target-based drug discovery project—from cloning target genes to the design and synthesis of small molecules. Nearly 100 early-career researchers have already passed through the doors of CQMED, many of whom leveraged their experience into positions in industry and graduate research.

The center has also attracted its share of industry partners. Aché and Eurofarma, two of Brazil’s largest and most innovative pharmaceutical companies, have teamed up with CQMED and Embrapii to develop new molecules against potential therapeutic targets.

Under the leadership of Paulo Arruda and Katlin B. Massirer, CQMED has already made significant contributions to discovery science. Researchers at CQMED developed new biochemical and cellular assays, solved new protein structures, and deposited more than 30 protein crystal structures in the PDB, most of which were bound to new small molecules designed and synthesized by CQMED´s own medicinal chemists or those from industry partners.

“The global SGC network and the continuous support of Brazilian funding agencies and UNICAMP have been key to our success”, says Katlin Massirer, the CQMED Coordinator and a faculty member at UNICAMP.

Genomics Applied to Climate Change Research Center

In the 2015/2016 crop season, drought inflicted severe losses on corn production in key producing states in the Central-West region, reducing overall national production by 18 million t or 21%. Credit: Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia

With its large agricultural economy, Brazil must meet climate change before it arrives. The Genomics Applied to Climate Change Research Center (GCCRC) was founded to develop biotechnology that will allow the Brazilian agricultural sector to adapt its crops to conditions brought about by global climate change.

Established by UNICAMP and the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA), the GCCRC is part of the FAPESP Engineering Research Center (ERC) program. The combined investments from the three partners will amount to approximately $20 million over the next 10 years. The initiative consolidates and expands the Joint Research Unit for Genomics Applied to Climate Change (UMiP GenClima), a collaboration started in 2012 that combines personnel, funding and the use of UNICAMP campus and EMBRAPA crop research centers throughout Brazil to foster research that will increase adaptation to drought and heat.

One focus of the GCCRC is to investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in drought stress response in plants. Researchers have been studying native plant species from the campos rupestres in central Brazil, which are an ancient, highly endemic and increasingly threatened biodiversity hotspot, in an effort to design microbial consortia capable of modulating desired plant traits. Credit: Rafael Soares Correa de Souza

The GCCRC operates an agricultural biotechnology pipeline that relies upon the center’s areas of expertise, including bioinformatics, genetic engineering, genome editing, microbiome research, phenomics, and patent and regulatory sciences. The GCCRC core pipeline, which additionally involves several partners both in Brazil and abroad, will leverage the GCCRC vision of becoming a world-class agricultural biotechnology organization, both as knowledge generators and disseminators, and to the private sector, through the transfer of technology to partners domestic and abroad.


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