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Idaho State University Pharmacy Professor Kirk Hevener receives new investigator award from AACP

Posted January 27, 2014

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) recently chose Idaho State University Pharmacy assistant professor Kirk Hevener for a New Investigator Award.

The award, which supports new pharmacy faculty member’s research programs, includes a $10,000 pilot grant as well as travel expenses to present Hevener’s research at the annual AACP meeting in July 2015. Kirk Hevener
Pilot grants are traditionally awarded to junior faculty and allow the opportunity to, “take good ideas and turn them into good research projects,” said Hevener. The award will make his research competitive for larger grants once his project is off the ground.

“I’m very happy to get it,” said Hevener. “It’s my first award since coming to ISU. I’m glad they had confidence in my research to fund it.”

Hevener, who joined the ISU College of Pharmacy Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences Department in March 2013, is the newest faculty member at the Skaggs Pharmacy Complex at the ISU Meridian Health Science Center.

“Dr. Hevener is part of a small group of energetic new faculty members engaged in structural biology and drug discovery research,” said Dana Diedrich, chair of the department. “He is a valuable addition to the College and plays a pivotal role in taking the College’s research in a new direction.”

Hevener uses protein crystallography in the laboratory to solve the structures of his targets and then uses computer-aided modeling to identify new compounds that can inhibit these targets as drug candidates. His research has focused on infectious diseases of the mouth such as periodontal disease as well as infectious diseases of the lower bowel such as Clostridium difficile colitis.

His project will concentrate on characterizing a novel antibacterial target in the C. difficile bacteria and testing to identify inhibitors. Hevener hopes to prove that inhibition of this target, an enzyme called FabK, will result in a selective antibacterial effect against C. difficile. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Illness from C. difficile most commonly affects older adults in hospitals or in long-term care facilities and typically occurs after use of broad-spectrum antibiotic medications.”

“Hypervirulent, drug-resistant C. difficile infections result in an estimated 14,000 deaths per year and a national burden in excess of $3 billion annually,” Hevener stated in his abstract. “Broad-spectrum antibiotics can kill off the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, allowing C. difficile to grow. Selective antibiotics, such as those we hope to develop, could be used to treat C. difficile infection, while allowing the return of the ‘good’ bacteria.” One reviewer for the grant called Hevener’s work a “highly interesting project that focuses on an unmet need for inhibitors against C. difficile.”

Hevener comes to Idaho from postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He received both a Pharm.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.

“Hevener is a wonderful addition to our faculty and has everything it takes to be a successful researcher,” said Paul Cady, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

Nationally, 12 were chosen to receive the award.