This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Pharmacy researcher receives NIH MERIT Award

Published: July 7, 2005

Contributing Editor

The National Institutes of Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has selected a UB researcher to receive one of its coveted MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) awards, worth $3 million over its first five years.

William J. Jusko, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, received the award, which offers support for up to 10 years, for his ongoing research in corticosteroid pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Fewer than 5 percent of NIH-funded investigators are selected to receive MERIT Awards.

The NIH gives MERIT awards to provide long-term, stable grant support, rather than the usual three or four years, to investigators "whose research competence and productivity are distinctly superior," according to Richard T. Okita, program director for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

"Dr. William Jusko is a major leader in the field of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics whose work over the past 20 years has led to significant advances in the modeling of the time course of events which follow drug administration," Okita said. "Providing support to such investigators is expected to foster their continued creativity and spare them the administrative burdens associated with submission of full-length research grant applications. This may allow them the opportunity to take greater risks, be more adventurous in their lines of inquiry or take the time to develop new techniques."

Jusko, who is editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics, has had NIH funding for his research for the past 28 years. Along with his collaborators—Richard R. Almon, UB professor of biological sciences and adjunct professor of pharmaceutics, and Debra C. Dubois, UB research assistant professor of pharmaceutics—Jusko examines a cascade of biomarkers that control pharmacologic and metabolic effects of corticosteroids. The team has a special interest in pharmacodynamics—the study of the action of drugs on the body—and seeks to reveal the rules of biology that govern the time course of drug action, according to Jusko.

"Our latest award was triggered by the realization that corticosteroids act by changing the functioning of hundreds of genes in numerous tissues and the interplay offers amazing complexity, which we are seeking to better understand. There are various ways that drugs alter body functions to produce their effects, and we seek to find mathematical methods of quantitating and predicting drug responses," Jusko said. "This support will continue much of the research pursued over the past 10 years, but expands it to a higher level, seeking to integrate several body systems affected by these drugs."

Corticosteroids are "important therapeutic agents" used in the treatment of many diseases, including asthma, lupus, kidney disease and others, Jusko said, "but their myriad adverse effects severely limit their long-term use.

"Our research is seeking to find ways of improving the beneficial effects and reducing the adverse effects of these essential drugs," he said.

Jusko said he is extremely pleased to have been selected for a MERIT award.

"The NIH only occasionally bestows a MERIT award for established investigators in areas of special scientific need," he said. "I feel highly honored and privileged to receive one of these awards."

Jusko received a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy in 1965 and a doctoral degree in 1970 from UB. He joined the clinical pharmacology section of the Boston Veterans Administration Hospital and was assistant professor of pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine. He returned to UB in 1972 as an assistant professor and director of the clinical pharmacokinetics laboratory.

A Fulbright scholar at the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacology in Italy from 1978-79, he has received numerous awards for his research and service. He has published nearly 500 articles, book chapters and reviews. He is a fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists, American College of Clinical Pharmacology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and serves on the editorial boards of six journals.