University-Industry Engagement Week

Metabolomics research the focus of three-way partnership between Washington U, Agilent, and Merck

By David Schwartz
Published: July 6th, 2021

A three-way collaboration between Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL), Agilent Technologies and the biopharma company Merck has its sights set on expanding research in the field of metabolomics — the comprehensive study of small molecules within a biological system.

Using research instruments from Agilent, scientists in WUSTL’s Department of Chemistry will develop new metabolomics workflows of interest to many members of the drug-development community. The partnership also includes two years of salary support for postdoc research fellows.

“Metabolomics provides a direct readout of biochemical activity. It is ideally suited to study the effect that drugs have on cells and tissues,” said Gary Patti, professor of chemistry and professor of medicine, who leads the university’s portion of the collaboration.

“With these instruments from Agilent, we are delighted to establish a dedicated training laboratory outfitted with cutting-edge mass spectrometry equipment for metabolomics,” added Feng Sheng Hu, WUSTL the of the faculty of Arts & Sciences.

“Trainees will be exposed to computational approaches in metabolomics, mass spectrometry, cell work and animal work, as well as many other biochemical techniques — making them exceptional candidates to pursue careers within the biopharmaceutical industry,” Hu said. “We are grateful to Agilent and Merck for their support in helping Washington University to develop the pipeline of research experts skilled in scientific discovery within the fields of pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, drug metabolism and metabolomics.”

“We are excited to participate in this collaborative effort. The combination of metabolomics with drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) offers significant potential to accelerate drug development,” said Sudharshana Seshadri, vice president of Agilent’s Mass Spectrometry Division. “

“This collaboration will fast-track the training of next-generation bioanalytical scientists at Washington University, incorporating new workflows combining metabolomics with DMPK analysis to define mode of action, off-target effects, and stratification of results with metabolic biomarkers,” said Darlene Solomon, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Agilent.

Dan Rock, associate vice president of pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism at Merck Research Laboratories, noted that “mass spectrometry and computational advancements have opened the scope of metabolomics to more global exposure-response modeling techniques, which present a truly unique path to accelerating drug discovery.”

Researchers involved in the collaboration will use metabolomics to elucidate novel biochemical mechanisms of disease. Metabolomics is transforming the ways in which drugs are discovered and developed. For example, researchers can now use metabolomics to create a complete tally of drug metabolites — the individual byproducts created when the body breaks down a drug into different substances — as well as the precursors and products of the reactions that these substances affect. The improved understanding of how drugs circulate around the body and the chemical mechanisms behind their actions is critical to identifying which drugs can be used to treat which diseases and at what doses.

The new partnership builds upon Patti’s previous work to establish an experimental strategy to find off-target effects by metabolomics. “Off-target effects can lead to toxicity and are one of the biggest reasons that drugs fail during development. The earlier that off-target effects can be identified, the better,” Patti explained. “Metabolomics has a lot of potential to help here.”

The three-way collaboration offers an opportunity to integrate the unique expertise and perspectives of academic researchers, instrument manufacturers, and scientists from the pharmaceutical industry.

“This will position us to tackle the toughest challenges in drug development by applying the newest metabolomics technologies to a wide range of biological systems that span from cells and animals to human patients,” Patti said.

Source: The Source

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