Distinguished chemistry professor named inaugural director of Purdue Center for Drug Discovery

September 3, 2013  


Phillip Low

Philip Low
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Distinguished Purdue University chemistry professor Philip Low will serve as the inaugural director of the Purdue Center for Drug Discovery, a new initiative to promote the discovery, design and development of new drugs through collaborations in chemistry, medicinal chemistry, biology and engineering.

Low, the Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry who has been a Purdue faculty member for nearly 40 years, will lead the center, which will focus on the areas of organic synthesis, cell culture, analytical chemistry, molecule purification, biochemistry and molecular biology and fluorescent imaging.

The Center for Drug Discovery will be based in the new $28 million facility under construction in the university's Life and Health Sciences Park on the south end of campus. The center and the facility will be folded into the administration of Purdue's Discovery Park interdisciplinary research complex.

"Professor Low is highly regarded by his peers here at Purdue and throughout the world for the impact of his research in the area of drug discovery, particularly in helping treat cancer," Alan Rebar, director of Discovery Park and senior associate vice president for research at Purdue, said Tuesday (Sept. 3) in announcing Low's appointment.

"Through his decades of leadership and passion for impactful research designed to improve the quality of life for those battling cancer, we're convinced this center and these new research facilities will put Purdue on the map nationally as a center of excellence in drug discovery."

When it opens in spring 2014, the Purdue Center for Drug Discovery facility will accommodate 90 multidisciplinary researchers, including graduate and undergraduate students. They will be focused on efforts that have already led to drug therapies for targeting cancer cells, including drugs that are being brought to market by Endocyte Inc. and On Target Laboratories LLC, two companies in the Purdue Research Park.

In addition, it will provide offices for up to nine leading Purdue faculty members as well as several conference rooms equipped with videoconferencing capabilities that will enable research teams from across the world to interact as though they were present at Purdue.

The center facility partially replaces space in the Wetherill Laboratory of Chemistry, where a group led by professor Low has developed novel treatments for cancer and inflammatory diseases. 

"As the inaugural director of the Purdue Center for Drug Discovery, it's truly an honor and a privilege to lead an amazing team of Purdue faculty members, researchers and students all committed to make great advances and to push the frontiers of drug discovery forward," said Low, who received his doctorate degree from the University of California at San Diego in 1975 before joining the Purdue faculty in 1976. 

"Knowing that we will have a building devoted specifically to this scientific endeavor also clearly demonstrates that Purdue is very serious about becoming a pre-eminent site for the discovery and development of new drugs."

Low said that the Purdue researchers who will collaborate with the center and conduct their research in the new facility have not yet been identified, but are expected to originate from myriad disciplines.

He also noted that the timing couldn't be better - for Purdue's expanded commitment to commercialization, the state's growing and successful advancements in the life sciences sector, and the heightened interest from industry in collaborating with academia in drug discovery and development.

"It's a very exciting opportunity for the university, and I believe it's going to greatly enhance the ability of the faculty interested in drug discovery to achieve their goals. I think because of this, you'll see new spinoff companies develop in the community," Low said. "You'll also see a lot of other outside researchers visit here. This will be a center where researchers will want to come to learn how to do drug discovery."

While studying signal processes involved in transporting large molecules across the cell membrane in plants in 1989, Low and his Purdue team discovered that they could gain entry for a large molecule into a cell by linking it to a vitamin used by the cell. He immediately recognized that this process could be used medically and began to study the same process in mammalian cells.

Today, Low is developing multiple methods for "sneaking" molecules directly into diseased cells while avoiding healthy tissue - a process that will save lives and improve the quality of life for patients undergoing treatment.

So far, Low and the team at Endocyte, now a publicly traded company he founded at the Purdue Research Park, have successfully increased cancer drug potency while reducing toxicity. Six drugs in the end stages of clinical trials for kidney, lung, ovarian and endometrial cancers are the result of this work.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133, pfiorini@purdue.edu

Sources: Alan Rebar, 765-496-6625, rebar@purdue.edu

Philip Low, 765-494-5273, plow@purdue.edu

Related websites:

Low Laboratory

Department of Chemistry

College of Science

Faculty-Staff News

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