Medicinal chemist and pharmacologist Daniel Martin Watterson, PhD, has been named the second annual winner of the Alzheimer's Drug Discovery Foundation's (ADDF) Melvin R. Goodes Prize for Excellence in Alzheimer's Drug Discovery. The prize is the first to specifically recognize researchers working in promising areas of drug discovery for Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. Dr. Watterson is the John G. Searle Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and Professor of Pharmacology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He also serves in an advisory role to pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
"I have a great amount of respect for the people who choose the Goodes Prize recipients and am very honored to have been selected," said Dr. Watterson.
Among the most significant scientific prizes in any category, the Melvin R. Goodes Prize includes a $150,000 award to support the winner's research. A Selection Committee of leaders in the field nominates candidates for consideration and chooses a winner based on past achievements and proposed research in need of funding.
“Dr. Watterson's work has advanced the entire field. He has developed a number of new classes of promising Alzheimer’s drugs, and opened the door for many other researchers by identifying and testing key drug targets and disease pathways,” said Howard Fillit, MD, Founding Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer of the ADDF. "It is fitting that he is receiving the Melvin R. Goodes Prize, as the award is designed to acknowledge drug discovery pioneers who are taking bold chances in pursuit of effective treatments that are so desperately needed."
Among recent accomplishments, Dr. Watterson and colleagues developed a new class of drugs that targets brain inflammation in Alzheimer’s and a number of other neurological disorders. The first of these drugs, MW151 and MW189, have been licensed to a biopharmaceutical company. In a preclinical study, MW151 was shown to prevent the development of Alzheimer's disease by protecting against the damaging effects of brain proteins that cause inflammation and the eventual misfiring of synapses. In other preclinical studies, MW151 reduced neuronal damage caused by traumatic brain injury (TBI) and prevented the development of a multiple sclerosis-like disease. MW189 showed positive safety results in a Phase 1a first in human study. A third novel molecule, MW150, was shown preclinically to reduce the activity of an inflammatory enzyme that destroys neurons and leads to early memory loss in Alzheimer's.
The ADDF was an early funder of Dr. Watterson's drug discovery work and has provided a number of grants throughout the years. "Funding from the ADDF has been critical to advancing my work. Because my approach had not been previously tested, other funding wasn't available," said Dr. Watterson. "ADDF investment was a catalyst for other funding, including National Institutes of Health awards, because it supports the "proof of concept" studies that no one else will."
Dr. Watterson's research focuses on developing platforms for the identification of drug targets—such as neuroinflammation—that play a role in a number of central nervous system (CNS) disorders. He works toward developing novel small molecules that are "biology friendly" and able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Once these molecules are developed, he does proof of concept studies to determine if a particular pathway or drug target has disease-modifying potential. "This reduces risks for industry," said Dr. Watterson. "My goal is to create a knowledge base that industry can use to develop new classes of effective CNS drugs."
"Dr. Watterson sets the highest possible standard for all phases of small drug development, and has been devoted to targeting key, novel Alzheimer's disease mechanisms," said Dr. Fillit. "He is one of the most talented medicinal chemists in Alzheimer’s research and his extensive contributions to his peers can't fully be measured."
The Melvin R. Goodes Prize, which 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, was created in 2015 thanks to the generosity of Mr. Goodes and his wife, Nancy, who is also on the ADDF’s Board of Governors. The Goodes Family Foundation has made a commitment of $750,000 to fund the Goodes Prizes for 10 years, and the ADDF has matched that contribution.
Each year, the Melvin R. 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.