UNCW Researchers Recognized by Eli Lilly Open Innovation Drug Discovery Initiative

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Recently, three UNCW-affiliated researchers were recognized by the Eli Lilly Open Innovation Drug Discovery (OIDD) for their molecular contributions to biological testing. Jeremy Morgan, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, Stephen Eitelman, business development consultant for MARBIONC, and Nicole Palmer ’16, former undergraduate student in chemistry, all had hands in helping the UNCW chemistry department win the Lilly OIDD Outstanding Continuous Contribution to Compound Screening Award.

The Lilly OIDD was developed by scientists in order to create collaboration with external researchers, like Eitelman, Morgan and Palmer, for early drug discovery. Lilly provides researchers and scientists access to research tools not otherwise accessible as well as partnership with Lilly scientists. Together, participants create a research plan that can lead to further collaboration and even publication, depending on the findings of the submission.

Eitelman was the first to identify the unique opportunity to submit organic molecules to OIDD for biological activity testing. Palmer, during her time as an undergraduate in the chemistry program, was hired by the department to create a chemistry compound database and submit compounds from that database to OIDD. This database project was funded by UNCW’s Office of Innovation and Commercialization (OIC).

“We were surprised but delighted to see our work recognized by Lilly,” said Morgan of the recognition.

According to Morgan, the compounds submitted to Lilly were generated from previous projects funded by external grants awarded to him from Research Corporation, the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund and his current grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Thanks to Palmer’s efforts, the department was able to submit 80 unique molecules to the OIDD. She recently graduated from UNCW with a B.S. in chemistry and will pursue her master’s degree in forensic chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University. Morgan hopes to hire a new student in the fall to continue the database creation and compound submissions to the OIDD.

Though none of the department’s submissions have gotten to the publication stage yet, Morgan is hopeful for the future. He shares that it takes many months to process and collect data, and he is still receiving data back from previous submissions.

“Identification of interesting biological activity could be the foundation for a collaboration with Lilly or submission of a new grant application,” Morgan said. “We hope to [eventually] publish the data.”

--Caitlin Taylor