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Ferris State University Pharmacy Associate Professor Awarded $377,805 Anticancer Drug Research Grant

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Sonali Kurup

Associate Professor of Medicinal Chemistry Sonali Kurup has learned the National Institutes of Health approved her proposal for $377,805 to fund an investigation into novel dual-targeted inhibitors of EGFR and aurora kinase. These enzymes contribute to uncontrolled cancer cell division and resistance to approved anticancer agents.

“My focus, as the principal investigator, will be to create molecules designed to inhibit cancer cell division and to overcome resistance to approved anticancer drugs. My lab will focus next on the synthesis and evaluation of the molecules as dual EGFR/AURK inhibitors,” Kurup said. “Dr. Amissah is a collaborator on this grant and will evaluate optimized EGFR/AURK inhibitors developed in the Kurup lab for their effectiveness against mutant lung cancer cells in his lab.”

This grant provides multiple opportunities for undergraduate and health professional students to engage in anticancer research while promoting collaboration within the College of Pharmacy.

Kurup noted the NIH grant is an R15 REAP, or Research Enhancement Award Program award, for health professional programs and graduate programs. The grant considers the merit of the proposed study, opportunities for students to gain exposure to research and the impact on the research environment.

“This is a three-year grant. So, it is my hope to involve between four and six students from the undergraduate and professional ranks each year, over the course of this project,” Kurup said. “I am grateful for support through the intramural grants that provided a stepping stone for the NIH application. This NIH grant presents an excellent opportunity to expand research at Ferris and provide students training in varied research techniques as they prepare for their careers. It was great to have the support of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and the College of Pharmacy during the application of this grant.”

Kurup had also gained support in 2020 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation's Entrepreneurship and Innovation Initiative, in the form of a $47,200 ADVANCE Grant. This followed a period of collaboration Kurup enjoyed with Karen Studer-Rabler, a Mentor-In-Residence as part of the Tech Transfer Talent Network, a program also supported by the MEDC.

Kurup started working on the kinase inhibitor project at Roosevelt University in Chicago, Illinois. Research completed in her laboratory work brought about presentations at the American Association of Cancer Research and the American Chemical Society’s national meetings. After joining Ferris’ College of Pharmacy in 2018, Kurup began collaborative research with her peer, Amissah. This resulted in grant applications to the National Cancer Institute. Many students have engaged on this project and presented their findings at local meetings, including the West Michigan Undergraduate Research Symposium in Michigan and regional sessions of the American Chemical Society.

“The National Cancer Institute is under the NIH umbrella, and receiving support for this work is most encouraging,” Kurup said. “I am very hopeful that the hypothesis can be proven and deemed worthy of further grant support. Ultimately, the intention is to create a product that successfully inhibits pathways and limits the spread of cancer, so that it might one day become an option for the treatment of patients.”