Fast Facts

  • >100 Investigators and Scientists, from 18 Departments across the University
  • Core expertise in small molecule drug discovery and development
  • Expanded strengths in biomaterials for drug discovery, delivery, and device applications
  • Investigators with expertise in aptamers, anti-sense oligonucleotides, viral vectors for vaccines and gene therapy, nanoparticles, and tissue engineering

Our History

The Institute for Drug and Biotherapeutic Innovation (IDBI) was formed by Saint Louis University faculty with a shared interest in developing therapeutics in 2017. In 2020, IDBI was awarded Big Idea funding to advance its mission from the Saint Louis University Research Institute. Established in 2018 through a generous gift from Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, the Research Institute strives to become a national and international model for promoting teaching, learning and research that exemplifies discovery, transformative outcomes and engaged citizenship in a global society.

With funding from the Research Institutes Big Ideas challenge, the IDBI can retain research talent, stimulate novel drug discovery projects, and provide education opportunities for its members and students. This funding will seed the transformation of the excellent basic research being done at the University into translational projects, while enabling the academic independence required of a research university.

SLU-IDBI leverages its 100+ members deep expertise in biology, engineering and chemistry to pursue development of therapeutics based primarily on medical need as part of the University’s mission to serve people in need, worldwide. Current research includes the development of therapies for pain and central nervous system disorders, liver disease, infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, tuberculosis, and fungal infections, genetic disorders including muscular dystrophy, and other neglected diseases.

The first incarnation of the IDBI was the SLU Anti-Infectives Group. This group of scientists focusing on antimicrobial drug discovery began meeting in early 2017 to promote collaborations and to provide an external face for drug discovery at SLU. Success of the Anti-Infectives Group led to formation of the SLU-Drug Discovery and Development Group (SLU-D3G) in January 2018, as we expanded our focus to all small-molecule drug discovery at the University. SLU-D3G was given planning support in the first phase of the Big Ideas competition, and fused with a cellular and biotherapeutics development team to form SLU-IDBI. The IDBI thus expanded its focus beyond small molecule therapeutics into biotherapeutics and drug delivery. Subsequently, another group of researchers with interests in Biomaterials for Medicine and Medical Applications has also joined with IDBI, further enhancing the breadth and depth of member expertise, and increasing potential for cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Internal Collaborations

The IDBI has over 15 collaborative projects ongoing between members of the IDBI that include primary drug screening and discovery with iterative medicinal chemistry, in vitro PK/ADME studies, and animal models.

External Collaborations

Members of the IDBI are working with companies and other academic labs around the world. Projects have ranged in complexity and length, including assay development and/or validation, in silico and physical screening, efficacy testing with in vitro and in vivo models, and ADMEPK testing. Collaborations with industry sponsored projects have in some cases included long-term support for basic biology, target identification and novel therapy development, to sponsoring development of SLU hits and leads, to fixed-duration visiting scientist exchanges, scientific training, and graduate and sponsorships.

Selections of Ongoing Work

These projects represent a small fraction of the ongoing research by IDBI Members at Saint Louis University. More research, and more detailed information on individual investigators, can be found under the ‘Research’ tab above.

Novel Drugs for Hepatitis B Virus: The Tavis and Meyers labs are collaborating on hit to lead and lead optimization studies of inhibitors of the HBV ribonuclease H. Inhibiting the RNaseH blocks viral reverse transcription and the anti-RNaseH drugs sought after are envisioned to be used in combination with other classes of drugs to improve the cure rate for HBV therapy.

Novel Drugs for Herpes Simplex Virus: The Morrison lab is conducting lead optimization studies on inhibitors of HSV replication. These inhibitors interfere with viral DNA replication and block production of infectious virus. The anti-HSV drugs the lab seeks to develop are envisioned to be used in combination with existing drugs to suppress viral outbreaks faster than currently possible, and against viral strains that are resistant to existing treatments.

Improving Antibiotic Effectiveness: The Walker lab is conducting medicinal chemistry campaigns to develop inhibitors of bacterial efflux pumps. There are few antibiotics available against Gram negative bacteria such as E. coli, P. aeruginosa, and A. baumannii because these pathogens pump the drugs out of the cell. The efflux inhibitors under development are envisioned to be used to enable use of existing antibiotics in the hard-to-treat Gram negative bacteria.

New Drugs for Fungal Infections: The Donlin lab is working with multiple medicinal chemists to identify novel chemical scaffolds that inhibit the growth of the human fungal pathogen, Cryptococcus neoformans. They envision that any new small molecule inhibitors will be used in combination with existing drugs to fully eliminate C. neoformans in immunocompromised patients.

Long-term Drug Delivery Technologies: The Zustiak lab is engineering hydrogels as a drug delivery vehicle. Hydrogels are inert gels that can be loaded with drugs and injected into people. The rate of release of the drugs within the hydrogels can be adjusted changing their chemical and physical composition. Hydrogel delivery technologies are envisioned to be used for a wide range of indications in which steady release of drug over time will improve treatment of the patients.

Novel Treatments for Fibrosis: The Griggs lab is developing integrin inhibitors to treat fibrosis, the process of scar formation, in organs such as lung, liver and kidney. Integrins are molecules that govern cell attachment, spreading, migration, and survival, and play a key role in promoting and maintaining fibrosis. Anti-integrin drugs may be useful to treat chronic lung diseases such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, fibrosis in chronic kidney diseases, and fibrosis in liver due to NASH, viral infections, or alcohol.

New Treatments for Muscular Dystrophy: The Sverdrup lab is nearing clinical trials on novel inhibitors of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD). FSHD is a debilitating, progressive weakening of the muscles that can lead to serious muscle dysfunction and mobility loss. The Sverdrup lab discovered a key pathway in cells to target with drugs and then identified inhibitors of that pathway that are now drug candidates. These drugs are predicted to block progression of the disease, and possible promote remission of disease severity.

Treating Morquio Disease: The Montano lab is developing enzyme replacement and gene therapy approaches against Morquio Disease, a childhood genetic disorder that causes toxic buildup of mucopolysaccharides in cells. This buildup causes birth defects, development delays, and death in children. The leading therapies are just entering pre-clinical studies.