Doctor to discuss diabetes drug discovery during fifth annual Chu Lecture

Release Date: April 13, 2016 This content is archived.

John Eng, associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

John Eng

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Snakes, lizards and Gila monsters play an important role in this year’s David Chu Lecture presented by the University at Buffalo Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

In his lecture “A Drug Discovery,” John Eng, MD, associate professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, will talk about the how these reptiles have helped diabetics better manage their disease. The event is scheduled for April 26.

Eng spent a 30-year career in bench research, endocrinology and clinical informatics at the VA Medical Center in the Bronx, where he worked under Nobel Prize recipient Rosalyn S. Yalow.  In the late 1980s, Eng read studies by gastroenterologists at the National Institutes of Health about the effects of certain snake and lizard venoms on the pancreas, where insulin is produced.

Having spent years treating diabetic patients, Eng knew that maintaining normal glucose levels in diabetics is key to reducing their chances of suffering such complications as blindness, nerve damage and kidney failure. He eventually focused on looking for new peptide hormones using a chemical assay that led to the discovery of exendin-4, a peptide found in Gila monster venom. Exendin-4 acts on the GLP-1 receptor and has a relatively long half-life in blood due to its resistance to degradation by the DPP-4 enzyme compared to GLP-1. Exendin-4 was developed as exenatide into a medication for the treatment of diabetes mellitus in humans.

Eng’s discovery caught the attention of a biotechnology company, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, at the American Diabetes Association’s annual meeting.  The new drug, exenatide, was approved by the FDA in 2005 and has proved to be a treatment that helps diabetics manage their chronic condition. Today the medication is marketed as Byetta and has been prescribed to millions of people with diabetes.

Eng’s awards include the prestigious Golden Goose Award in 2013 and the Frontiers in Science Award in 2014.

The David Chu Lectureship, established at UB in 2011, is named for David C. K. Chu, PhD, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Sciences at the College of Pharmacy, University of Georgia. He obtained his PhD in medicinal chemistry from UB in 1975 under the mentorship of Professor Thomas Bardos.

Chu has published more than 300 drug discovery-related scientific papers and has been awarded more than 50 U.S. patents. Several of his invented compounds are undergoing clinical trials in the therapeutic areas of cancer, hepatitis B virus, HIV and shingles.

An elected member of American Association of Advancement of Science, Chu received a MERIT Award from the NIH in 2001, and the UGA Inventor of the Year Award in 2002.

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