UC Berkeley Launches New Molecular Therapeutics Initiative to Accelerate Drug Discovery


— Interdisciplinary concept unites academia, industry and venture capital to advance new therapeutic modalities for difficult-to-drug proteins from bench to clinic —

— Initiative funded by a $10 million gift from a generous donor —


BERKELEY, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- The University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley Molecular Therapeutics (MTx) division of the Molecular & Cell Biology department today announced the launch of a new initiative to accelerate drug discovery at the interface of academia and biotech. The UC Berkeley Molecular Therapeutics Initiative (MTI) will create a foundational bridge between fundamental research in rare neurological and metabolic diseases and drug discovery to identify and accelerate novel therapeutic modalities into the clinic.

The MTI’s infrastructure will comprise a collaborative, interdisciplinary community of UC Berkeley labs, external academic institutes, biopharma companies and venture capital partners that empowers rapid, iterative formulation and testing of therapeutic hypotheses. Initial research focus is on the interplay between metabolites and proteins to reveal new biological pathways that can modulate “undruggable” proteins, informing next-generation, induced proximity modalities in areas of significant unmet need such as rare diseases, neurodegeneration and cancer.

“UC Berkeley is an international nucleus for scientific breakthroughs, such as gene editing and immuno-oncology. Academia is known for taking on complex biological challenges and delivering transformative innovations in spaces where pharma may not have bandwidth, but we often lack resources and knowledge to move candidates into the clinic,” said Daniel K. Nomura, Ph.D., MTI co-director and Professor of Chemical Biology in the Departments of Chemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley. “We envision the MTI as the catalytic spark in a value-driven pipeline engine. The expectation is to more quickly and efficiently advance promising early-stage research into development programs, whether as independent biotech start-ups or through pharma collaborations.”

The MTI is funded by a $10 million gift from a generous donor that has fostered a thriving research and discovery ecosystem at UC Berkeley and in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We are deeply grateful for this generous support that enables the Molecular Therapeutics division to create what is a novel mechanism to train students for their time after graduate school and, at the same time, move forward innovative basic science into new drugs that help patients in areas of medical need,” commented Michael Rapé, Ph.D., MTx head and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley. “The MTI will integrate labs in cell, structural and chemical biology, chemistry, data science and artificial intelligence, and will invest in shared technologies and instrumentation. Students will be at the forefront of translating their groundbreaking discoveries in biological mechanism into new approaches to therapy. I am confident that by bringing together this diverse expertise in this unique way, we will innovate education and realize significant advancements in small-molecule or biologic-based therapeutics.”

Roberto Zoncu, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Therapeutics at UC Berkeley also co-directs the MTI. “Our interdisciplinary teams will include the next generation of scientific minds as we drive innovation at scale through new projects and partnerships,” he added. “In this way, we are not only advancing R&D but also democratizing it by building industry connections for emerging researchers interested in pursuing a biotech career.”

UC Berkeley Molecular Therapeutics Initiative

The UC Berkeley Molecular Therapeutics Initiative (MTI) seeks to accelerate drug discovery efforts by creating therapeutic modalities that overcome challenges in druggability and address unmet medical need. Operating at the interface of academia and biotech, the MTI will reinvent drug discovery and student education and professional development by building on unique strengths of UC Berkeley: a deep mechanistic understanding of the pathobiology at the heart of disease; the trailblazing nature of UCB science; the collaborative and interdisciplinary research that connects labs in cell, structural and chemical biology, chemistry and data science/AI; and the deep relationships between MTI faculty and the biotech startup world. It will unite geneticists to find and validate new drug targets; cell and structural biologists to reveal the molecular signaling logic of disease; neurobiologists to build organoid model systems; drug hunters to find early lead molecules; and chemists to create induced proximity compounds that deliver a pathological protein to the cellular machinery that can overcome its damaging effect.

About the UC Berkeley Molecular Therapeutics Division

The Molecular Therapeutics (MTx) division at UC Berkeley, founded in 2023, pursues research that provides an understanding of biochemical and cellular mechanisms that are affected in disease and can be exploited for the development of new therapeutic modalities. These include research into mechanisms of gene editing and genome engineering; neural development; gene expression; redox signaling; protein folding and degradation; cell growth and survival signaling; or host viral interactions. Faculty in MTx develop new diagnostic, delivery, and therapeutic approaches to detect and target a range of pathologies, including sickle cell disease, retinal atrophy, neural degeneration, or cancer. These problems are being investigated using biochemical, structural, and cellular approaches, including stem cell and organoid models. For more information, visit https://mcb.berkeley.edu/faculty/mtx.


Katie Engleman, 1AB


Source: UC Berkeley

Back to news