Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery Opens at Vanderbilt with $20M Gift

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by David Melamed, PhD |

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Vanderbilt University announced the opening of the Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, promoting research into treatments for neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s diseaseAlzheimer’s, and schizophrenia.

The center, which will specialize in translating basic research into viable treatments, was made possible by a $20 million donation from The William K. Warren Foundation, a non-profit organization that supports healthcare innovation and medical research.

“The Warren Foundation is a visionary organization dedicated to supporting scientific and medical research designed to treat and prevent some of the most tragic, vexing diseases known to humankind,” said Susan Wente, interim chancellor and provost at Vanderbilt, in a news release. “Having the foundation’s imprimatur is truly a mark of distinction for Vanderbilt.”

About 100 scientists with diverse research interests are part of the center, whose work is co-directed by Craig Lindsley and Jeffrey Conn.

“Genuine breakthroughs sometimes require taking paths that may not seem promising — or at least commercially viable — in the earliest stages of scientific investigation,” said Lindsley, who holds the William K. Warren Jr. Chair in medicine at Vanderbilt.

With the foundation’s support, Vanderbilt researchers have identified a compound, called VU319, designed to slow cognitive problems due to cognitive diseases.

VU319 works by ramping up the activity of a receptor present in nerve cells, called M1 muscarinic acetylcholine receptor, to counteract its degeneration — a process that has been linked to Alzheimer’s and memory loss.

The compound was tested in a proof-of-concept Phase 1 clinical trial (NCT03220295) in healthy volunteers. A new Phase 1 trial (NCT04051801), again in healthy individuals, is set to open in December to test VU319’s safety and tolerability in multiple ascending doses of VU319, as well as its capacity to enhance cognition.

“We have been impressed with the creative approaches and hard work demonstrated by Vanderbilt researchers, especially Craig [Lindsley] and Jeff [Conn], in the Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery,” said John-Kelly Warren, CEO of the Warren Foundation. “Supporting novel, research-based methods to combat devastating cognitive impairments and mental illnesses lies at the heart of our foundation’s mission.”

Part of the donation will be used to create an endowment program to promote mentorship and long-term research development.

“The basis of any remarkable scientific advancement begins first with unlocking fundamental knowledge,” said Lawrence Marnett, dean of Basic Sciences at the School of Medicine. “This work often takes years of patient, systematic trial and error. Yet, the ultimate benefit to society can be transformational.

“The Warren Foundation has understood and supported this belief for many years — and I am grateful they are doing so once again with this most recent gift,” Marnett added.

“The support of philanthropic organizations like the Warren Foundation is critical to making discoveries that may not otherwise see the light of day and translate them to the clinic,” Lindsley said.