Published: June 30, 2021 By

The Fox Research Group will receive over $1.76 million in new funding to support the group’s research into microbially guided discovery and the biosynthesis of biologically active natural products.

Learn more about the Fox Research Group's work in cellular function

The funding is provided by the National Institute of Health’s Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA).

“Our group is interested in using microorganisms to develop new medicines,” said Assistant Professor Jerome Fox. “The MIRA will support a diverse set of research projects and training opportunities that will allow us to expand our work in this area.”

Fox describes natural products—molecules produced by living systems—as a longstanding source of pharmaceuticals and medicinal preparations. Unfortunately, the chemical complexity and rarity of these molecules makes them challenging to develop into new medicines.

“Our project develops a framework for using a precisely defined therapeutic objective—for example, the inhibition of a misbehaving protein but not an essential protein—as a genetically encoded constraint to guide the assembly of natural products and unnatural analogues in microbial hosts,” Fox said. “It will focus initially on the biosynthesis of selective inhibitors and activators of protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs), an elusive class of drug targets implicated in an enormous range of diseases.”

This includes cancer, metabolic diseases and neurological disorders.

Fox says that molecules developed through this program could help researchers study PTP-mediated signaling events in living cells or supply starting points for the development of new PTP-targeted therapeutics.

This project will support several PhD students. The Fox Group plans to capitalize on the flexibility provided by the MIRA program, which allows researchers to follow up on new and unexpected results, and to grow their research program in new, highly collaborative directions.