Donia and Ploss awarded Princeton accelerator funding

Written by
Alina O'Regan, Office of the Dean for Research, Princeton University
March 16, 2023

Six new innovations with potential to benefit society will receive university funding to aid in the transition from early-stage research into real-world products and services. Two of the six projects awarded in 2022 are to faculty in the Department of Molecular Biology.

The Intellectual Property (IP) Accelerator Fund, which recently celebrated its tenth anniversary, provides support to researchers who have made a discovery but need to conduct extra studies to demonstrate that the discovery can meet a societal need. Such studies drive the research forward and can be essential for attracting outside investment and funding from government small-business programs.

Through the Fund, University researchers can receive up to $100,000 for prototyping, experiments and other efforts that advance the state of the technology and demonstrate the value of a discovery.


Assessing microbiome-derived drug metabolism for drug development and personalized medicine

Mohamed Abou Donia, associate professor of molecular biology, and his team developed the first quantitative, standardized approach to mapping how individuals’ gut microbiomes impact response to medications. Because medications are designed with the broad population in mind, individuals experience a wide range of responses to commonly prescribed medications. The human digestive track’s community of microorganisms, composed mainly of bacteria and fungi, play an important role in how drugs are metabolized. The new screening method uses cultures of human gut microbiomes to assess individual variability in the metabolic response to different drugs, and the team has used their method to measure this variability in hundreds of orally administered medications. The team’s goal is to incorporate knowledge of microbiome-derived drug metabolism into standard, widely used mathematical models of how drugs and physical systems interact, known as physiologically based pharmacokinetic models. The IP Accelerator award will enable the researchers to assess the usefulness of their screening method for drug development and personalized medicine.

Curing chronic hepatitis B virus infection with small molecule therapeutics

Alexander Ploss, professor of molecular biology, and his team are developing a therapeutic approach for curing hepatitis B virus (HBV), a common human pathogen that results in close to one million deaths annually. Current treatments for HBV suppress levels of the virus in the blood, but do not cure chronic infection. One of the challenges is the persistent nature of the HBV genome, which forms a structure known as covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA). Using high-throughput screening, Ploss and his team established a shortlist of candidate compounds that can inhibit cccDNA transcription. A successful drug derived from these compounds would rid cells of the virus within a matter of weeks to months, resulting in a therapeutic cure for HBV infection. The IP Accelerator award will enable the team to continue their research aiming to identify a compound that can suppress HBV infection in the human body.

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