NEWS RELEASE, 11/24/98

NIH grants $1 million to UC Berkeley's College of Chemistry for renovation of biomedical facilities, laboratories

By Jane Scheiber, Chemistry

BERKELEY -- The University of California, Berkeley, has received a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for renovating laboratories in the College of Chemistry that are used for biomedical research.

The federal funds will be matched by $1.5 million in university funds and College of Chemistry funds raised from the private sector, for a total budget of $2.5 million.

The funds were awarded by NIH's National Center for Research Resources under an Extramural Research Facilities Construction initiative, which is designed to enhance biomedical and behavioral research by supporting the costs of expanding or renovating facilities for such research.

The award-winning project calls attention to the central role of organic synthesis and combinatorial chemistry as the foundation for medicinal chemistry and the discovery of new pharmaceuticals. From the inception of the pharmaceutical industry, organic chemistry has played the lead role in generating novel drug candidates - either by total synthesis or through modification of naturally occurring compounds - and in providing economical routes to the final products.

The central role of organic synthesis in pharmaceutical discovery has become even more apparent with the maturation of the biotech industry, since increased understanding of biological function at the molecular level has greatly enlarged the number of targets for drug discovery.

The grant will permit the modernization of approximately 5,000 square feet of laboratory space in Latimer Hall for chemistry professors Paul A. Bartlett, Carolyn Bertozzi, Jonathan A. Ellman, and Clayton H. Heathcock. Together, they bring a variety of approaches to the discovery of new medicinal agents, including syntheses of very complex molecules, the design of drugs based on biochemical principles, engineering of cell surfaces to make them receptive to specific therapeutic agents, and combinatorial chemistry, which represents one of the most fundamental advances in the way that new compounds are synthesized and screened for biological activity.

"We hope this grant will be the lead for a much broader initiative in synthetic chemistry into new and exciting areas of biomedical and materials research," said Bartlett, the principal author of the grant proposal and chair of the chemistry department.

Despite its top ranking, the Department of Chemistry has been limited in the scope of the research it has been able to perform and the number of students and postdocs it can train in biomedical research because of obsolete research facilities. By providing adequate fume hoods in well-configured space, renovated laboratories will facilitate student training and increase efficiency, productivity, and safety. The strong presence of the biotech industry in California and the Bay Area has contributed to the enormous demand for students trained in organic synthesis.

"The timing of the grant is most fortuitous," said College of Chemistry Dean Alexis T. Bell. "It will enable us to coordinate the seismic upgrades to Latimer Hall under the grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency with the improvement of interior research space.

"In addition," he said, "the project ties into UC Berkeley's new interdisciplinary health sciences initiative, which, at the Chancellor's direction, seeks to generate new technology and advance research for the study and treatment of disease."

These renovations on the sixth, seventh and eighth floors will constitute Phase III of modifications to Latimer Hall, being funded with a combination of private and public monies, to upgrade facilities for research in chemistry and chemical engineering with medical applications. Phase I, the addition of a ninth floor, was completed in 1989. Phase II, completed last year with the help of an NSF grant, upgraded laboratories for chemistry professors Jean Fréchet, Clatyton Heathcock, and Kenneth Raymond and chemical engineering professor Jay Keasling. Additional renovations must await further funding.

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