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Faculty-Student Research Team Uncovers Critical Process in Drug Development

A faculty-student research team in the chemistry lab at the University of Redlands has advanced a new approach to a critical process in pharmaceutical drug development that could reduce the time and cost of bringing a drug from concept to market.

Jeryl Anne Chica ’17, who graduated summa cum laude in April, joined Chemistry Professor David Soulsby’s research team as a transfer student in 2015. Their research also required a third team member—the department’s nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer, an instrument much like a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine that, instead of looking at parts of the human body, looks at individual molecules like carbons, hydrogens, and oxygens to see how they fit together.

The initial research goal was to explore what “original and innovative ways” they could use the instrument and its newly released software—Complete Reduction to Amplitude-Frequency Table (CRAFT).

“CRAFT allows for the analyzing of data like no one had done before,” said Soulsby, who has taught at U of R since 2001 and wrote a NASA grant to help fund the instrument’s purchase.

Working one or two afternoons each week, Jeryl established research protocols, how to make the process reproducible and how to use the software toward a new approach to measuring a parameter known as “partition coefficients.”

“If you were to insert a compound into salad dressing, for example, it would move between two layers—oil and water—until eventually there would be a portion of that compound in each layer. That is the model for when an ingested drug enters into a cell,” Soulsby said. “A cell is fat on the outside, like the oil. The bloodstream is like the water. How well the drug likes the cell wall tells us if it is going to be absorbed into a cell or go straight through a patient.

“Pharmaceutical companies need these certain values to identify promising drug candidates, and that is what can be measured with this technique,” Soulsby said.

“And because of this new approach,” Jeryl said, “the researcher can do more experiments and take multiple tries because it is quick and easy.”

A manuscript of the work, “Determination of partition coefficients using 1H NMR spectroscopy and time domain complete reduction to amplitude-frequency table (CRAFT) analysis” was published online in the February 2017 issue of the journal Magnetic Resonance in Chemistry (MRC) and Jeryl presented the study at the spring national meeting of the American Chemical Society with more than 10,000 researchers in attendance.

All chemistry majors are required to contribute research to faculty-generated projects. Soulsby has mentored and/or co-authored with more than 20 research students on projects across a broad range from the development of new reactions involving ozonolytic (unsaturated bonds of particular compounds cleaved with ozone) intermediates to the synthesis of biological molecules.  Soulsby hopes to continue the research with incoming chemistry majors because there is more work to do.

“The NMR spectrometer has revolutionized the curriculum in the chemistry department and helped faculty advance their research goals.”