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Bryan Roth, MD, PhD; and Gary Johnson, PhD
Bryan Roth, MD, PhD; and Gary Johnson, PhD

May 17, 2018

Bryan L. Roth, MD, PhD, the Michael Hooker Distinguished Professor of Protein Therapeutics and Translational Proteomics in the Department of Pharmacology at the UNC School of Medicine, and Gary Johnson, PhD, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and former chair, were each awarded NIH Illuminating the Druggable Genome Awards from the National Institutes of Health, totaling $28 million over six years. Investigators from the University of California at San Francisco received the third of these prestigious grants.

Even though the DNA sequence of the human genome has been defined for more than 20 years, the function of many genes are still poorly defined. Scientists don’t understand the function of many proteins encoded in our DNA. In an attempt to address this deficiency, the NIH established an initiative called “Illuminating the Druggable Genome” or IDG to use experimental and informatics approaches to characterize understudied proteins from three gene families: ion channels, G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), and protein kinases.

In many human diseases, these three families are important therapeutic targets for FDA-approved drugs. The IDG consortium, established in 2014, wanted to know if understudied members of these three gene families were important in human disease. The goal was to have researchers use scalable technology platforms to characterize functions of understudied ion channels, GPCRs, and protein kinases. The NIH wanted this initiative to feature high-throughput technologies, not the “one gene at a time” approach. Researchers would define molecular, cellular, and/or physiological roles and potentially identify new tractable drug targets within the understudied proteins.

The NIH nationally advertised a new funding opportunity for Data and Resource Generation Centers for Illuminating the Druggable Genome. Three six-year grants would be funded: one each for ion channels, GPCRs and protein kinases.

Roth is the principal investigator for the GPCR research effort. Johnson leads the protein kinase group. The awards include collaborators at UNC and other universities. Four labs at UCSF lead the ion channel group. The UNC awards are for $14 million each. Roth, who is director of the NIMH Psychoactive Drug Screening Program, and Johnson are members of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Before these grants were announced, UNC Pharmacology ranked third in NIH funding among pharmacology departments across the United States. It was ranked second in the world in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s Best Global Universities 2018 rankings.

Media contact: Mark Derewicz, 984-974-1915,