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UTSA Professor Wins Outstanding Open Innovation Drug Discovery Collaborator Award

Meet Doug Frantz. The Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Distinguished Professor in Chemistry was selected by the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly & Co. to receive its Outstanding Open Innovation Drug Discovery Collaborator Award.

by Kris Rodriguez
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Doug FrantzDoug FrantzPhoto courtesy of the University of Texas at San AntonioFor the past five years, Frantz’s graduate and post-doctoral students have developed nearly 1,500 new chemical compounds. Under a collaborative agreement, Eli Lilly has studied the compounds for their potential as medicinal treatments.

“Every day, my students read 20 to 30 chemical journal articles and try to figure out what people have done in the past,” said Frantz. “We try to build on those findings, figure out ways to combine chemical reactions and set up conditions where two molecules can come together and create a new molecule.”

Two of the the University of Texas at San Antonio compounds Eli Lilly & Co. is considering could potentially treat schizophrenia and chronic pain.

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“We signed a research agreement that is allowing UTSA students to do chemistry in their Indianapolis laboratories using robots that follow the instructions our students provide to their synthetic chemists,” said Frantz. “The robots run the compounds through various analytical tests and our students observe the tests on a computer screen in our laboratory.”

Frantz says that synthetic chemistry is not easy; it requires great patience as students learn the laborious process of trial and error. The students that take on the challenge, he says, make the best scientists across all disciplines.

“It’s a frustratingly lengthy process, and 99 times out of 100, the ideas don’t work. But that one time when they get that one reaction to work, the celebrations make it all worth it,” said Frantz.

Frantz joined UTSA in 2005 after serving on the faculty at UT Southwestern and as part of the research and development team at Merck and Co. He earned his doctoral degree in organic chemistry from Texas A&M University and his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches.