Doctoral Study Probes Covalent Drug Design
Dr Shama Khan graduated with a PhD in Pharmaceutical Chemistry following a study titled: Comparative Studies of Covalent and Non-Covalent Drug Inhibitory Mechanisms of ERK2 and PTP1B Proteins in Cancer Therapy using Bioinformatics and Molecular Modelling Techniques.
Supervised by the Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences, Professor Mahmoud Soliman, the study aimed to fill the gap in covalent drug design research against different enzymes and offer insight into the covalent and non-covalent mechanism of inhibition.
Covalent drugs occupy a very distinct category in the therapeutics. ‘Drugs that bound covalently to their target protein have a long history in drug design and development therapy. With a critical disease like cancer, computational methods including molecular covalent docking, molecular modelling and covalent dynamic simulations have allowed chemists to screen millions of small molecule compounds and thus identify possible leads,’ said Khan. She added that this is a cost-effective approach to fast-track the drug development process.
‘Since the covalent bonds are considerably stronger than the non-covalent bonds, the design and development of covalent inhibitors suggested the potential for inhibitors with improved potency over non-covalent inhibitors,’ Khan explained.
She said Soliman’s research and the fact that UKZN is rated as ‘one of the best institutions in South Africa’ influenced her decision to study at the University.
Khan has published five research articles in peer-reviewed journals with a high impact factor. She noted that Soliman’s support helped her to overcome the protocol challenges she faced and that her collaboration with Stanford University was very fruitful. She is currently working as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Khan is the first person in her family to graduate with a PhD. She thanked her parents and brother as well as her fiancé for their support.
Words: Nombuso Dlamini
Photograph: Rajesh Jantilal