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Dr. Conor R. Caffrey

Development of drugs and diagnostics for parasitic diseases of poverty, high-throughput and high-content screening

Conor Caffrey

Conor R. Caffrey, Ph.D

Associate Professor
Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences


(858) 534-5340

Research Summary: Parasite biology, Technologies, Drugs and Diagnostics for parasitic diseases of poverty

I am interested in the basic (chemical, molecular and cell) and applied (diagnostics and drug development) biology of the tropical parasitic diseases, including, schistosomiasis, hookworm disease and African trypanosomiasis. Three broad themes underpin my research: (1) the identification and validation of protein targets (e.g., proteases and kinases) for drug development; (2) the pre-clinical and translational development of drugs, including the development and application of associated technologies (high-content and high-throughput screening platforms, RNA interference, C. elegans as a drug discovery model, protein expression and animal models of infection); and (3) development of point-of care (POC) diagnostics. To facilitate these cross-disciplinary interests I interface with bioinformaticians, medicinal chemists, pharmaceutical chemists, structural biologists and automated systems biologists, among others. My research themes converge with the mission of the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases (CDIPD), namely the delivery of new therapies and technologies to help alleviate suffering caused by the ‘neglected’ diseases associated with poverty.

Academic Achievements


B.Sc. (Hons.) in Zoology, University College Dublin, Ireland (1988); Ph.D. in Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology, University College Dublin, Ireland (1994).

Awards and Honors:

Wellcome Trust Traveling Research Fellowship to Europe (1994-1996); Scientific American Magazine’s ‘SciAM50’ award for outstanding contributions to biomedical research (2007); Associate Editor for the Journal of Parasitology (2005-present); Specialist Editorial Board for the International Journal for Parasitology - Drugs and Drug Resistance (2011-present). Associate Editor to the journal Pharmaceuticals (2017-present).

Leadership Experience:

Director of the Biochemistry Core, Sandler Center for Drug Discovery, UCSF (2001-2011); Senior Scientist, Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases, UCSF (2012-2014); Nematode and Trematode Core Director for the CDIPD at UCSD (2015-present);

Key Contributions to Pharmaceutical Sciences

  • How parasite proteases contribute to parasitism
  • • Validated various proteins (e.g., proteases, kinases and phosphodiesterases) as drug targets for parasitic infections
  • Identified assorted synthetic and natural product small molecule chemistries as leads for treatment of parasitic infections
  • Co-developed a number of technologies for high throughput and high content screening, and automated image analysis of complex large parasites

Selected Recent Publications (view more)

Potential Collaborative Programs with the Pharmaceutical Industry

  • Collaborations with industry are a key component of our research. For example, we work with Merck, Calibr and Celgene to discover small molecule therapies of parasitic infections.

  • We are particularly interested in industry liaison for POC diagnostics.

  • Industry training or placement opportunities for students interested in the drug discovery process.