Vanderbilt University Assistant Professor of Pharmacology Jerri Rook has been recognized with the 2020 Melvin R. Goodes Prize for Excellence in Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery. Presented by the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, the prize recognizes leading researchers who are developing treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
Rook was formally recognized at the ADDF virtual fall luncheon and symposium on Oct. 30.
As director of in vivo and behavioral pharmacology at the Vanderbilt University Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery, Rook’s research focus over the past 10 years has been on developing treatments for the cognitive decline associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Her work has contributed to the development of the small molecule VU319, which targets a protein receptor in the brain that is essential to normal brain function, learning and memory. This new method, known as positive allosteric modulation, is helping to fine-tune the circuitry of the brain.
“We’re trying to increase the activity of cells with a dimmer switch, to refine the activity of cellular targets in the brain instead of over-activating the system, which has resulted in previous failures by other drug discovery programs,” said Rook, the lead biologist on the drug discovery program.
The ADDF-Harrington Foundation was key to helping the VU319 project avoid the dreaded “valley of death” period, the nebulous time when strong scientific research programs struggle to get from the lab to a clinical setting. In 2015, Rook and collaborator Dr. Paul Newhouse, director of the Center for Cognitive Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and professor of psychiatry and pharmacology, were presented with the ADDF-Harrington Scholar Award.
“This award enabled us to continue our very early safety pharmacology and toxicology studies to help turn our ideas into reality,” said Rook. “The Warren Center for Neuroscience Drug Discovery at Vanderbilt University is an ideal place to conduct drug discovery and development, and the ADDF-Harrington Scholar Award was a complement to the resources we have here at Vanderbilt.”
Researchers hit a key milestone in 2017 when the therapy was administered in a first-in-humans phase 1 clinical trial at the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research under the direction of Newhouse. Earlier this year it was licensed by ACADIA Pharmaceuticals Inc. to develop and commercialize the therapy.
“I am very honored to receive this recognition from the ADDF. The ADDF’s devotion to Alzheimer’s drug discovery research in the search for a cure is relentless. We are making great strides toward this goal, and I look forward to continuing my research and pursuing an effective treatment for Alzheimer’s together,” Rook said.
Rook’s research is also supported by a R01 grant from the National Institute on Aging, as well as a UG3 grant from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She is a member of the ADDF Scientific Review Board and is a regular member of expert panels convened to discuss and provide insight on research directions. In 2015, she received the Butler-Williams Scholars Program award from the National Institute on Aging and in 2016 earned the Vanderbilt Faculty Research Scholar Award.
“Professor Rook’s innovative work has transformed the way that researchers think about treating Alzheimer’s disease,” said Lawrence Marnett, dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Sciences and Mary Geddes Stahlman Professor of Cancer Research. “Her commitment and dedication are an example to so many, and we are very happy to see her career celebrated with this recognition.”
“We are thrilled to present Professor Rook with the sixth annual Goodes Prize for excellence in drug discovery,” said Dr. Howard Fillit, founding executive director and chief science officer at the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation. “Professor Rook’s research is significant in that she has found an innovative and creative way to develop compounds that are effective in regulating memory and cognition without the intolerable side effects for patients.”
About the Goodes Prize
The Melvin R. Goodes Prize is named in honor of the courage, legacy and research advocacy of Mr. Goodes, former Warner-Lambert CEO and chairman and honorary member of the ADDF’s Board of Governors. It was created through the generosity of Mr. Goodes and his wife, Nancy, who is also on the ADDF’s board. The Goodes Family Foundation committed $750,000 to fund the Goodes Prizes for 10 years, and the ADDF matched that contribution. Each year, the Goodes Prize is awarded to a professionally active researcher in academia or industry who has pursued novel research and made a significant and lasting impact in Alzheimer’s drug discovery. A Selection Committee that includes leaders in the field nominates candidates for consideration and chooses a winner based on achievements and proposed research.