The Strength of Research: Chemistry and Biochemistry's Williamson’s Work Reflects Value of Biotechnology Partnerships

Monday, June 21, 2021

This coming October will mark three years since R. Thomas Williamson, Yousry and Linda Sayed Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, joined the faculty at UNCW. He arrived the week after Hurricane Florence following an 18-year career in the pharmaceutical industry.

The main attraction to the new role was the opportunity to help build a new pharmaceutical chemistry Ph.D. program and prepare graduates for careers in drug discovery and development. An award of $134,114 from Apertor Pharmaceuticals Inc. for the project “Molecular Characterization of Rapamycin Analogs by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy” will greatly help with those efforts.

Through collaboration with Apertor, Williamson’s work will focus on discovering and developing new treatments for age-related diseases. Apertor’s world-class synthetic biology platform will synergize knowledge of natural products and analytical resources such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to generate data for structure-based drug design.

“Our vision is to increase health span by slowing the aging of the immune system,” said Williamson, the lead investigator. Fellow Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty members Ana C. Barrios Sosa and Wendy Strangman (pictured with Williamson) and two postdoctoral scholars are helping expedite the project.

“This project provides an exceptional and rare opportunity for UNCW students to work directly on a project that is directly translatable to the public sector,” he said. “The real-world experiences they gain through being a part of this team effort will be directly translatable to improving human health in a significant way and will provide invaluable and coveted skills to stage their entry into the workplace or in pursuit of more advanced degrees.”

Work has already begun and will be carried out between Apertor’s labs in San Francisco and UNCW’s CREST Research Campus. Though the funding is for one year, Williamson expects the joint effort to be a multi-year endeavor.

--Caroline Cropp