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Vanderbilt University

P. Jeffrey Conn, PhD
Dr. Conn is the Lee E. Limbird Professor of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University and Director of the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery.  Dr. Conn received the Ph.D. degree in Pharmacology from Vanderbilt in 1986 and pursued postdoctoral studies at Yale University.  Dr. Conn joined the faculty of the Department of Pharmacology at Emory University in 1988 where he where he established himself as a leader in studies of neurotransmitter receptors and their roles in regulating brain function in circuits involved in psychiatric and neurological disorders.   In 2000, Dr. Conn assumed the position of Senior Director and Head of the Department of Neuroscience at Merck and Company in West Point, PA.  Dr. Conn moved to Vanderbilt University in 2003 as the founding director of the Vanderbilt Program in Drug Discovery (VPDD), with a primary mission of facilitating translation of recent advances in basic science to novel therapeutics.  By 2011 the VPDD had grown to approximately 100 full time scientists and raised over $80M in research funding.  In addition, the VPDD advanced novel molecules from three major programs into development for clinical testing in major brain disorders with industry partners.  A fourth program reached development status and is advancing internally at Vanderbilt.  To mark this growth and facilitate more fluid integration of drug discovery, development, and corporate partnerships, the VPDD achieved independent center status and was named the Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery in January 2011.   Dr. Conn is Editor in Chief of Molecular Pharmacology, Regional Editor (North America) of Current Neuropharmacology and serves on the editorial boards of 6 other international journals.   He has served the Scientific Advisory Boards of multiple foundations and companies in the pharmaceutical and biotech industries. He currently serves as the founding director of the scientific advisory board of Karuna Pharmaceuticals and on the advisory boards of Seaside Therapeutics and the Michael J. Fox Foundation.   He served as Chairman of the Neuropharmacology Division of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) and on multiple national and international committees.  He has received numerous awards, including the NARSAD Essel Distinguished Investigator Award, the ASPET-Astellas Award in Translational Pharmacology, the Pharmacia - ASPET Award for Experimental Therapeutics, the Charles R. Park Award for Basic Research Revealing Insights into Physiology and Pathophysiology, the PhRMA Foundation Award for Excellence in Pharmacology and Toxicology.  He was named as an ISI Most-Cited Scientists in Pharmacology & Toxicology and the Lee University 2008 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.  Dr. Conn’s current research is focused on development of novel treatment strategies for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and other serious brain disorders.

Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery
The Vanderbilt Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery extends traditional academic pursuits in basic science to take the most exciting advances in our understanding of human disease and drug targets to a point where these breakthroughs can directly impact patient care.   The most innovative and potentially high impact new approaches for treatment of human disease that arise from academic basic science efforts are often untested and pose unacceptable risks for investment of the tremendous capital required to discover and develop a new drug in an industry setting.  This is especially true in discovery of new treatment strategies for the most serious of brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, autism, and others.  By incorporating the highest level of drug discovery into academic research, we are able to advance the most exciting scientific breakthroughs toward the development of patentable and marketable drugs suited for clinical studies.    This new model for academic drug discovery is crucial to the drug discovery process because it “de risks” new treatment strategies with the potential to transform the standard of patient care.  By investing in the early stages of research that pharmaceutical companies are reluctant to undertake, we can provide strong validation of innovative approaches to treatment of severe brain disorders.  The VCNDD includes four major groups, each of which is directed by veteran drug discovery scientists who have extensive experience in advancing novel molecules into clinical development, and staffed by dozens of scientists. These include Medicinal Chemistry, In Vivo Pharmacology, Molecular Pharmacology, and Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics (DMPK).  These groups work together on discovery teams to identify compounds that act on specific targets, enhance the compound’s selectivity, efficacy, and disposition in the body, and ensure efficacy and safety, in vivo.  The VCNDD also works in close collaboration with the tremendous research infrastructure of other institutes and departments at Vanderbilt to advance new treatment strategies for testing in a clinical setting.  Since 2007, VCNDD has made significant progress in identifying novel treatments for brain disorders such as Fragile X syndrome, schizophrenia, dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder.  VCNDD research is currently funded publicly by the NIMH, NIDA, and NINDS, as well as privately by the Michael J Fox Foundation, Seaside Therapeutics, Johnson & Johnson, and other foundation and corporate partners.

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