Research & Innovation

Working to Empower Tools to Expand the Frontiers of Drug Discovery

With his $1.55 million MIRA grant, Stevens researcher Abhishek Sharma is working to discover novel approaches to overcome challenges in finding potentially life-saving therapies

photo of drug molecules

Whether you’re building a house or curing drug-resistant cancer, you need the right tools for the job. That’s why Abhishek Sharma, assistant professor in the department of chemistry and chemical biology and principal investigator for The Sharma Lab at Stevens Institute of Technology, has devoted extensive research toward creating the right tools for potentially lifesaving uses.

His work involves two complementary approaches. The first is developing drugs with novel mechanisms of action in breast cancer treatment, which was originally funded through the Department of Defense in 2019. The second is providing new tools to investigate the reactivity and function of certain biologically important molecules to help make them more viable in the discovery of new therapeutics, which has received grants in 2020 and 2021 from the National Institutes of Health.

This research is particularly relevant to expand the chemical space of drug molecules — the possible ensemble of molecules that could be of interest in this area. Ultimately, it’s expected to accelerate discovery of new types of drugs for the treatment of cancer and bacterial infections, where healthcare professionals are facing the challenge of emerging resistance to chemotherapeutic drugs.

His current project, "Novel Acylborons and Alpha-hydroxy Borons to Enable Modular, Regio- and Stereocontrolled Synthesis of Bioactive Molecules and Protein Conjugates,” builds on the foundation of his recent work in organoboron chemistry. It was recently granted a $1.55 million, five-year National Institutes of Health (NIH) Maximize Investigator’s Research Award (MIRA).

“I am excited and honored to receive the MIRA grant, as it will allow my lab to significantly expand our research program in new directions and take on biomedically relevant fundamental research at the interface of organic synthesis, chemical biology and drug discovery,” Sharma said. “We will also seek to leverage the new knowledge and molecular tools we develop to advance our work in medicinal chemistry, such as our ongoing research program on breast cancer drug discovery.”

His approach involves a brand-new way to develop fundamentally novel types of organoborons — chemical compounds of boron and carbon – and demonstrate their applications to prepare medicinally important molecules that would be very difficult to construct using other available methods.

“The unique chemical structure of these ‘chemical Legos’ allows their use as modules for construction of several types of previously inaccessible three-dimensional drug-like molecules,” Sharma explained.

It’s also the latest innovative project in an illustrious career that merges complex chemical research, imaginative design, and a deep passion for discovery with profound impacts on multiple areas of science.

“Research in organic and medicinal chemistry provides a rare opportunity to combine the rigors of scientific logic with the creativity of molecular construction,” Sharma said. “I love the creative aspects of designing a new chemical reaction pathway that can be useful to the broader scientific community and the development of novel molecules having applications in medicine, biology and polymer and materials science. It’s fascinating to harness the power of chemistry to develop new therapeutic agents and molecular tools to understand and modulate complex biomolecular interactions that are responsible for human disease.”

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