Drug Discovery for Macular Disease

Dimitrios Morikis, PhD
University of California, Riverside (Riverside, CA)

Co-Principal Investigators

Monte J. Radeke, PhD
University of California, Santa Barbara
Year Awarded:
Grant Duration:
July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016
Macular Degeneration
Award Amount:
Grant Reference ID:
Award Type:
Award Region:
US Southwestern

This grant is made possible by a gift made in memory of Carolyn K. McGillvray. Recipient of The Carolyn K. McGillvray Memorial Award.

Dimitrios Morikis, PhD

Drug Discovery for Macular Disease


This research focuses on the discovery of potential therapeutics for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), by targeting the complement system, a part of the immune system implicated in the development of AMD. The project involves synergy between computational screening (uses computer-assisted calculations) of chemical compounds that have the potential to serve as future therapeutics, and experimental testing, using a human retinal cell-based model.


The objective of this proposal is to discover chemical compounds that have the potential to serve as therapeutics for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The chemical compounds target the activation of the complement system, which is part of the innate immune system (the first line of defense against infection), and has been implicated in the progression of AMD through studies of histopathology (changes to tissues caused by disease) and genetics (inherited differences in DNA predisposing to disease). The work is collaborative between the research groups of Dr. Dimitrios Morikis (University of California, Riverside) and Dr. Monte Radeke (University of California, Santa Barbara). Drs. Morikis and Radeke use knowledge from their previous and ongoing work on the discovery of peptidic (small protein-like) inhibitors of the complement system.

In particular, Dr. Morikis employs ligand-based and receptor-based computational approaches to identify low-molecular mass chemical compounds that are capable of inhibiting the complement system. Chemical compounds with computationally-predicted activities, are tested using biochemical and functional assays. Promising compounds according to these assays are further tested by Dr. Radeke in a novel human retinal pigmented epithelial (RPE) cell-based assay that mimics several aspects of AMD pathology in vitro (at the laboratory bench). Repeated computational and experimental optimization is performed for the most promising inhibitors identified in the RPE assays. This is an integrative computational and experimental approach tailored to the development of a new class of complement inhibitors aiming to treat AMD.

The project involves cross-disciplinary synergy between computation and experiment, bringing together drug design and modeling, virtual screening (a powerful computer technique that narrows down the pool of candidates), and biochemical, functional, and cell-based assays. The team’s approach has been successfully tested in the development of potent peptidic inhibitors of the complement system, but in this study they aim to alleviate peptide-specific issues related to delivery and bioavailability. Drs. Morikis and Radeke expect that this integrated computational and experimental approach will become a paradigm for macular disease drug discovery.

About the Researcher

Dr. Dimitrios Morikis is Professor of Bioengineering at the University of California Riverside (UCR). He is also faculty member at UCR’s Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program and the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology. His work is highly cross-disciplinary using methods from biophysics, structural biology, computational chemistry, biomolecular informatics, and bioengineering. His current work focuses on immune system function and regulation, knowledge-based drug design, design of proteins with tailored properties, design of peptide-single elements of secondary structure, and development of structural bioinformatics methods. His research is hybrid, computational, with emphasis on electrostatic calculations, molecular dynamics simulations, and docking-based virtual screening, and experimental, with emphasis on NMR spectroscopy. Dr. Morikis has been working on the development of complement system inhibitors for 17 years, and he has been co-developer of compstatin family peptides that are candidates to become therapeutics for macular degeneration.
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