Drug Discovery Summit Fosters Arizona Collaborations

Friday, August 28, 2020

A conference hosted by two University of Arizona Health Sciences centers brings researchers together to forge new partnerships, accelerate drug discovery.


Researchers studying new drugs can find collaboration at the second-annual ‘Discovering New Drugs in Arizona’ summit.

Most researchers learn early in their careers to rely on partnerships to further their investigative goals: they know they have to apply their own knowledge and the expertise of their peers to move science forward. In Arizona, the second annual Drug Discovery Summit, hosted virtually this year by two University of Arizona Health Sciences centers, aims to be a catalyst for such collaboration.

The Sept. 15 summit, “Discovering New Drugs in Arizona,” will be hosted by the University of Arizona Cancer Center and the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery, housed in the College of Pharmacy.


Daniel O. Persky is a plenary speaker at the 2020 summit.

It will bring together a variety of people interested in drug discovery, from academic laboratories to pharmaceutical companies in the state.

“I have high hopes that we're going to continue to develop fruitful collaborations that will contribute to our work, such as papers and grants that build on common interests,” said Daniel O. Persky, MD, who is the associate director of Clinical Investigations at the Cancer Center.

Dr. Persky, a plenary speaker at the summit and a professor at the College of Medicine – Tucson, said most of the networking will occur outside of the virtual event this year, but he is confident people will connect because the event targets attendees on common ground: drug discovery in Arizona. The geographic focus differentiates it from similar summits held in other parts of the country.

“Serving our own population is critical to our mission as the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center headquartered in Arizona. And this is one of the best ways to get together with all the participants who serve the population.”

Collaboration is a cornerstone of drug discovery

Dr. Persky said networking at the event also can help advance research efforts, which eventually helps patients.

“We talk with other cancer centers about possible collaborations. There are times that we have the capacity to do a test someone else doesn’t have the ability to do, so they send us the specimens, and then we run both ours and theirs. Then we can publish the research together.”


Rick Schnellmann, PhD, speaks at the 2019 Discovering New Drugs in Arizona Summit. Schnellmann is dean of the College of Pharmacy.

Those collaborations also can lead to the co-development of drugs and jointly applying for grants, Dr. Persky said.

“It's very competitive right now to get funding, especially for cancer research, and collaborations are looked upon very favorably.”

“Multicenter collaborations also have a way of averaging out some of the individual center idiosyncrasies,” Dr. Persky adds. “Centers typically see certain types of patients or treat patients in certain ways, but when you get 10 or 20 centers together in a study, you get a much broader picture of what's actually happening with a specific disease, or a specific approach to treating a disease.”

Moving from drug labs to patient care

The mission of most cancer centers is to treat and cure cancer, so partnerships in research always drive to move discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic.

Dr. Persky plans to discuss the UArizona Cancer Center’s new cancer drug discovery panel, a partnership between the center and the Arizona Center for Drug Discovery.


Attendees mingle at the 2019 Summit on Discovering New Drugs in Arizona. Facing camera, from left: Lori Stratton, director of development for Steele Children’s Research Center; Omar Contreras, program director, Cancer Center research; Joann Sweasy, PhD, Cancer Center director.

“We're going to bring together the scientists and the clinicians to focus more on early drug discovery and Phase I trials in small numbers of people,” he said. “The new panel will look critically at possible new drugs and advise on how to position them properly in the cancer realm. It will basically think about what it takes to develop the new drug and help investigators along that path.”

Not all principal investigators have the chance to see their pharmaceutical research in action, but those who also work as clinicians, such as Dr. Persky, are rewarded with seeing the impact of the process.

“At the end of the day, I see the difference new drugs make for my patients,” Dr. Persky said. “To see the impact of new treatments on patients is remarkable. And you see it live, so you see that what you do is real, that it does make a difference.”

An agenda, information about speakers and more is available on the webpage for “Discovering New Medicines in Arizona: 2nd Annual Drug Discovery and Development Summit.”