Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Drugs and Diagnostics for parasitic diseases of poverty
Parasitic diseases associated with poverty, including the neglected tropical diseases, are overlooked in terms of the number, efficacy and safety of the drugs available for treatment. As part of the Center for Discovery and Innovation in Parasitic Diseases (CDIPD), and with a focus on schistosomiasis, African trypanosomiasis and hookworm disease, three broad themes underpin my team’s research: (1) the identification and validation of protein targets 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, Machine Learning, protein expression and animal models of infection); and (3) the development of point-of care (POC) diagnostics. To facilitate our cross-disciplinary research interests, my team collaborates with academia and the pharmaceutical industry worldwide, including with bioinformaticians, medicinal and clinical chemists, structural biologists and automated systems specialists. Finally, with international partners, my team is actively engaged in training and capacity-building with researchers from low-/middle-income countries to translate drug discovery practices and technologies back to their home institutions.
Education: 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 to the CDIPD at UCSD (2015-present); Vice-Chair UCSD-IACUC (2017-2021).
- Validated various proteins (e.g., proteases, kinases and phosphodiesterases) as drug targets for treatment of parasitic infections
- Identified assorted synthetic and natural product small molecule chemistries as leads for treatment of parasitic infections
- The application of technologies such as high-throughput and high-content screening, and machine learning, to drug discovery for schistosomiasis
- Biomechanical principles underlying facets of parasite biology
- Monti L et al. (2018). Triazolopyrimidine and Phenylpyrimidine Microtubule Stabilizers as Potential Leads to Treat Human African Trypanosomiasis. ChemMedChem. 13(17):1751-1754.
- Probst A, et al. (2020). Efficacy, metabolism and pharmacokinetics of Ro 15-5458, a forgotten schistosomicidal 9-acridanone hydrazone. J Antimicrob Chemother. 75(10):2925-2932.
- Chen S, et al (2020). A multi-dimensional, time-lapse, high content screening platform applied to schistosomiasis drug discovery. Commun Biol. 3(1):747.
- Zorn KM, et al (2021) A Machine Learning Strategy for Drug Discovery Identifies Anti-Schistosomal Small Molecules. ACS Infect Dis. 7(2):406-420.
- We collaborate with NGOs (e.g., BIO Ventures for Global Health (BVGH) and WIPO Re:Search) to host and train scientists from low/middle-income countries. We have also worked with HBCUs to train underrepresented minority students.
- Collaborations with industry and non-profits are a key component of our research. For example, we have worked with Merck, Janssen and Calibr at Scripps Research to discover small molecule drug leads for infectious diseases of poverty.
- We welcome industry training or placement opportunities for students interested in the drug discovery process.