Research Profile: Bahaa Elgendy

Published on 07 April 2020

Bahaa Elgendy, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicinal chemistry at St. Louis College of Pharmacy and adjunct assistant professor of anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is a medicinal chemist working to unravel the mysteries of nuclear receptors, which play a role in a number of physiological processes, including metabolism, immune function, reproduction and development. His team is working to develop ligands that modulate the function of these receptors to potentially treat a variety of medical conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, atherosclerosis, chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

“In our research, we’re trying to discover what happens when the receptor is active, overactive and inactive,” Elgendy explained. “One of the most exciting projects we’re working on is targeting the REV-ERB receptor with therapeutics to encourage muscle recovery from injuries or strain. That project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Defense because they are interested in therapeutics that could help soldiers recover quickly from injury.”

Elgendy’s work is unique because it focuses on studying receptors and their properties. He begins by studying the receptor carefully and designing different types of modulators for it. This process allows him to target multiple diseases at once that are all affiliated with the target receptor.

Elgendy earned his Bachelor and Master of Science in Organic Chemistry from Benha University in Egypt, and then completed his Ph.D. at the University of Florida. After earning his Ph.D., he began working for Scripps Institute in Jupiter, Florida. There, he met and collaborated with Tom Burris, Ph.D., who now serves as Alumni Chair in Pharmaceutical Education and vice president of research at the College.

After leaving Scripps, Elgendy returned to his home country of Egypt to establish his own lab at Benha University, where he continued to study nuclear receptors and their therapeutic potential. He and Burris collaborated long-distance until Burris recruited him to join the faculty at St. Louis University. In 2018, both researchers came to the College to work in the Center for Clinical Pharmacology.

“Since I am a chemist and Dr. Burris is a biochemist and pharmacologist, our work is complementary,” Elgendy explained. “Dr. Burris identifies a receptor that he wants to study. But he needs a tool, a compound, that can turn the receptor on or off to measure its effects. Where I come in is to create the tool that he needs that will activate or deactivate the receptor. Then we can discover how it works and how we can use it to treat disease.”

Nuclear receptors were first identified as therapeutic targets decades ago, but their full potential is still being discovered. Of the 48 known receptors, many are still mysteries because the ligands needed to interact with the receptors have yet to be discovered. These mystery receptors are called “orphan receptors,” and one of the center’s research team’s goals is to “de-orphanize” them by discovering the ligands needed to work with the receptors with the goal of opening the door to newer, better therapeutics.

Elgendy continues to collaborate with his lab in Egypt as well as perform research at the College. His work with Burris has received over $6 million in extramural funding by organizations such as the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

“The drug discovery process is very long and expensive,” Elgendy explained. “But if we could develop something here and begin clinical trials in the next 10 years, it would be a major accomplishment. That’s our dream, and we’re working very hard to achieve it.”

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