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Drug Discovery Initiative

Helping to advance therapies to patients

Drug Discovery Initiative logo

Developed in partnership with the UNC School of Medicine, the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research


CRISPR has supercharged the ability to conduct rapid and effective genetic and epigenetic screening. UNC’s facility is available on a fee-for-service basis to all UNC researchers as well as external investigators and biopharmaceutical companies.

DNA Encoded Library

DNA-encoded libraries (DELs) allow for the rapid and simultaneous screening of hundreds of billions of small molecule compounds against the protein target of interest. Through a collaboration with HitGen, UNC researchers have no-cost access to this technology in exchange for sharing of the resulting intellectual property or may access HitGen through a negotiated fee-for-service arrangement.


The Drug Discovery Initiative (DDI) expands upon existing UNC infrastructure and provides access to new technologies that allow UNC researchers to advance therapeutic programs in-house to a point of higher readiness for commercialization. As a testament to the value being brought to UNC by these efforts, DDI received a generous $2M gift from an anonymous donor in 2021.



In order to further facilitate small molecule drug at UNC, DDI established in 2020 a collaboration with HitGen, a premier DNA-Encoded Library (DEL) company, for the screening of billions of small molecule compounds against therapeutic target proteins of interest. 

DDI also launched the UNC CRISPR Screening Facility. CRISPR, a revolutionary new way to edit genes, was named “Breakthrough of the Year” in 2020. Launched in the fall of 2021, the facility, led by Dr. Nate Hathaway from the UNC School of Pharmacy and a member of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, is working closely with UNC investigators to carry out whole genome or targeted CRISPR genetic screens in search of novel therapeutic targets. 

In 2023, EI launched an RFA to fund CRISPR screen at the facility, resulting in 5 funded screens to discover novel therapeutic targets in Alzheimer's Disease, Rubella Virus infection, endothelial tissue aging, chemotherapy resistance and neurodegeneration. 

The North Carolina Biotechnology Center provided a $150,000 Innovation Impact Grant to help purchase key equipment for the CRISPR facility. 


I am thrilled to bring a modern genetic and epigenetic screening facility to UNC’s laboratories. This will enable many future discoveries and fill UNC’s drug discovery teams with new project pipelines. With CRISPR, we have the ability to continue to help patients struggling with the world’s most challenging health issues.

Headshot of Nate Hathaway

Nate Hathaway, PhD
CRISPR Facility Director, Associate Professor in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy

From Our Generous Partner

NCBiotech is pleased to be a part of this institutional initiative at UNC. Access to cutting-edge research equipment is absolutely essential for the advancement of science and innovation. We expect this award to have lasting and far-reaching impact for UNC and for the advancement of CRISPR technology among scientists throughout North Carolina.

Headshot of Susan Lankford

Susan Lankford, Ph.D.
NC Biotech Center’s director of science and technology development.

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