Suman Sirimulla, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso School of Pharmacy, was awarded $80,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through UTEP’s Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials (PREM) Center for Advanced Materials Research (CMR) to support his research to develop antiviral drugs that will target COVID-19.
The grant also will provide funding for six highly motivated and talented UTEP graduate and undergraduate students to participate in Sirimulla’s research.
UTEP’s PREM Center for Advanced Materials Research was established with a $4 million NSF grant in 2018 to support the research collaboration between UTEP’s College of Engineering and the Materials Research Laboratory at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB).
According to Ramana Chintalapalle, Ph.D., the grant’s principal investigator and director of UTEP’s CMR, the new award will bolster the efforts between the PREM Center and the School of Pharmacy to utilize advance computational methods in COVID-19 research and create opportunities for UTEP students.
Since March 2020, Sirimulla and his team have been hard at work virtually designing biochemical molecules that will be used to develop a drug that would target the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory disease.
To that end, Sirimulla is using a supercomputer to screen more than a billion molecular compounds to find those that will inhibit the spread of the coronavirus. He expects to have an antiviral drug ready in 15 months to two years.
Pharmacy and computational sciences students involved in the project will gain valuable hands-on experience with advanced computational methods and statistics. Sirimulla said the interdisciplinary nature of the project also will create new opportunities for students from life sciences, health sciences, and engineering to participate in the research.
“It is crucial to train young minds and next-generation scientists to involve in solving challenging problems so they are prepared to deal with future situations like the current coronavirus pandemic,” Sirimulla said. “Students involved in this project will be trained in developing and applying cutting-edge computational tools in designing drugs that can be used for the treatment of COVID-19.”
Chintalapalle said Sirimulla’s approach in using advanced computational methods to design and develop novel biomaterials will strengthen the center’s existing efforts in materials research and create more opportunities for UTEP students.
He also said that it was important now more than ever to support Sirimulla’s research in order to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
“Dr. Sirimulla and his work in the context of the current COVID-19 outbreak is highly important, and the research outcomes can significantly benefit our society. Therefore, it deserves all kinds of encouragement,” Chintalapalle said.
“We are pleased with this NSF award into the existing UTEP-UCSB PREM CMR, where Dr. Sirimulla and his team will continue to work on quickly identifying the active chemical molecules that can lead to discovery and drug development so as to tackle the situations like COVID-19 that can emerge under complicated conditions.”