The Arizona Bioindustry Association honored Laurence Hurley, PhD, of the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy as the Arizona Bioscience Researcher of the Year at the 2017 AZBio Awards on October 11. Arizona life science and business leaders, as well as guests from across the nation, recognized Dr. Hurley for his legacy of work that has made a significant clinical impact to improve patients’ lives.
Hurley is the Howard Schaeffer Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences at the UA College of Pharmacy and director of the UA BIO5/College of Pharmacy Drug Discovery and Development Program. He also is a research member of the UA Cancer Center, among other roles.
He is the leading authority in the identification of small molecule therapeutic agents that target DNA quadruplexes, which are unique four-stranded DNA structures that control gene expression.
“A quadruplex is like a knot in DNA and we have the capability, using drugs that act like natural proteins, to undo or tie up these knots. In effect, this process allows us to turn genes on or off,” said Hurley, who pioneered the method nearly 20 years ago. “With this approach, we can turn off cancer genes and thereby mitigate the progression of the disease. In a similar vein, we have the capacity to turn on genes, which may be important to other disease areas, such as those related to the natural process of aging.”
Hurley and his team recently developed a groundbreaking platform technology that accelerates the discovery process for next-generation pharmaceutical agents that modulate quadruplex control of gene expression. This work resulted in eight peer-reviewed publications over the last 12 months in high-impact science journals, such as Journal of the American Chemical Society and Nature Chemical Biology. Notably, he fully characterized quadruplex control systems for several important drug targets, including telomerase, c-MYC, BCL2, KRAS, HIF1-α, VEGF, and PDGFR-β. Further, he developed the fundamental drug-discovery tools required to translate quadruplex-controlled gene expression onto a commercialization path for each of these targets. This platform technology now is in the hands of a Tucson-based drug discovery company called Reglagene (Hurley is CSO and Richard Austin, PhD, MBA, is CEO).
Hurley and his team work to design and develop novel antitumor agents that will extend the lives of patients diagnosed with cancer. Hurley’s team applies structural biology techniques to validate quadruplex control systems, high-throughput assay technologies to identify drug leads, and medicinal chemistry intertwined with clinical oncology programs in cancer therapeutics to create new medicines. Hurley has built an impressive network of clinical collaborators, including the best of Arizona. He has active collaborations with clinicians at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the HonorHealth Research Institute (HRI), both scientifically led by Daniel Von Hoff, MD, and with research groups within the UA Cancer Center.
"Dr. Hurley is one of the most gifted scientific investigators and teachers in this world,” said Von Hoff. “His pioneering work on DNA quadruplexes is visionary. His efforts have always been driven to make a difference for patients."
Throughout his distinguished career, Hurley has pioneered several novel drug therapies. This research has been recognized internationally with numerous top scientific awards, including two Outstanding Investigator Awards from the National Cancer Institute, Honorary Doctorates from the University of Bath and Purdue University, and the Nucleic Acid Award from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He has placed two novel cancer medicines into human clinical trials, founded three biotech companies (Cylene, Tetragene and Reglagene), and provided the technology for a fourth company (Horizon Biotechnologies).
A prolific author and inventor, Hurley has published more than 265 peer-reviewed articles and has 25 issued patents or patent applications.
Laurence Hurley was born in Birmingham, England. He earned a Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Bath and a doctorate in chemistry from Purdue University. He conducted postdoctoral research at the University of British Columbia and served on the faculties at the University of Maryland, University of Kentucky and University of Texas at Austin. In 2000, Hurley joined the University of Arizona as the Howard J. Schaeffer Chair in Pharmaceutical Sciences. He has served as associate director of the UA BIO5 Institute and co-director of the Molecular Therapeutics Program at the UA Cancer Center. Since his arrival at the UA, Hurley has trained more than 40 graduate and postdoctoral students.