October 6, 2020
LA JOLLA—Salk Institute Assistant Professor Edward Stites has been named an NIH Director’s New Innovator for 2020 as part of the National Institutes of Health’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research Program. The award “supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators,” according to the NIH and provides $1.5 million for a 5-year project. For his project, Stites will use mathematical and biological approaches to identify strategies to convert failed therapeutics into effective agents.
“Ed’s innovative approach of using concepts from computational biology to address clinical needs is opening a whole new realm of research possibilities with profound clinical implications,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “We are elated that the NIH is recognizing him with a prestigious NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to fund this exciting project.”
Pharmaceutical companies design drugs to hit specific targets, such as a particular protein or a distinct cell type in cancer. Yet, one reason these drugs fail in clinical trials is because, even though they succeed in hitting their targets, the side effects are too severe to safely use. Stites, who has both a doctorate and a medical degree, believes that on- and off-target effects can each be titrated to convert the toxic drug to one that is safe and effective. Stites’ project will combine functional genomics (which seeks to describe the functions and interactions of large numbers of genes and proteins) and computational biology (which aims to analyze and model biological data) to identify these titration mechanisms.
“It’s an honor to have our project selected for this award. My lab is excited about this work’s potential to have a big impact on medical treatments,” says Stites, a member of Salk’s Integrative Biology Laboratory and holder of the Hearst Foundation Developmental Chair.
Stites also recently received the Career Development Award for the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program, the Young Investigator Award from the Melanoma Research Alliance, the Discovery Award from the American Lung Association as well as the K22 Career Development Award from the National Cancer Institute.
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