‘Revolutionary’ New Class Challenges UArizona Students to Cure Alzheimer’s Disease

Friday, November 1, 2019

A new class at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is preparing students to lead scientific discovery and is challenging them to create a drug that can help patients with Alzheimer’s disease.

Slated to begin in January 2020, “Designing Drugs: From Chemistry to Cure,” is a unique interdisciplinary class spearheaded by May Khanna, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmacology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and a member of the UArizona Health Sciences Center for Innovation in Brain Science (CIBS).

“This is super exciting for the University of Arizona Health Sciences,” Dr. Khanna said. “We are bringing people together from multiple disciplines across the university, as well as entrepreneurs from the community, to challenge our students to make a difference in the world while they are still in school. This will prepare them to thrive in an environment that fuses the digital, physical and biological worlds to address health challenges.”

The course is offered through the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and the UArizona College of Pharmacy and is open to undergraduate science majors and graduate students pursuing a health sciences degree. A maximum of 20 students will be enrolled in Dr. Khanna’s inaugural class, in which small teams of students will partner with a university medicinal chemist to develop their own unique drug compounds to treat Alzheimer’s disease.

During the course, students also will gain knowledge from drug-discovery experts from the UArizona James E. Rogers College of Law, the UArizona McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the UArizona Honors College, as well as private pharmaceutical companies.

“Our students will have the opportunity to gain comprehensive knowledge — how to target a disease, how to design drugs, starting from the initial target, and how to think about advancing a drug to market,” said Rick Schnellmann, PhD, dean of the UArizona College of Pharmacy.

The class will culminate with a “Shark Tank”-style competition, in which students will pitch their compounds and potential start-up companies to a panel of judges, which will include university business and law students and leaders from Tech Launch Arizona, in addition to entrepreneurial faculty members and researchers from national pharmaceutical companies.

Dr. Khanna also is committed to engaging local Tucson innovators who can provide knowledge and expertise to students as they discover the next generation of knowledge.

“This course leverages the University of Arizona’s multidisciplinary strengths and embodies the kind of transformational thinking that will engage our students and our communities to advance science and build upon our strong foundation of innovation and entrepreneurship,” said UArizona President Robert C. Robbins, MD

The UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and Tech Launch Arizona provided financial support to launch the course and funding for students to launch startup companies following its conclusion. Dr. Khanna has recruited a team of scientists who will serve as the board of directors for the students’ companies to help move their technology forward.

Irving Kron, MD, interim dean of the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, said, “We want students to be inspired by this course and be motivated by the idea that science and entrepreneurship can be leveraged to create an environment of innovation that leads to medical advances and cures.”

About the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson
The University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson is shaping the future of medicine through state-of-the-art medical education programs, groundbreaking research and advancements in patient care in Arizona and beyond. Founded in 1967, the college boasts more than 50 years of innovation, ranking among the top medical schools in the nation for research and primary care. Through the university's partnership with Banner Health, one of the largest nonprofit health care systems in the country, the college is leading the way in academic medicine. For more information, visit

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About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Tucson and Phoenix), Nursing, Pharmacy, and the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs nearly 5,000 people, has approximately 900 faculty members and garners $200 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram)

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