May Khanna, left, and graduate student David Donald Scott. “Designing Drugs: From Chemistry to Cure” will be offered at the University of Arizona.

A new Health Sciences class at the UA is challenging students to join the fight against Alzheimer’s by developing drugs to treat the disease.

Beginning in January 2020, “Designing Drugs: From Chemistry to Cure” will be offered through the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy and is open to all undergraduate science majors and graduate students pursuing a health sciences degree.

During the course, each student will have the opportunity to partner with a university medicinal chemist to help develop a unique drug that could be used to treat Alzheimer’s.

An estimated 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, including 140,000 in Arizona. According to the national Alzheimer’s Association, the number of people living with Alzheimer’s in Arizona is expected to grow by 43% over the next six years.

“This is super exciting for the University of Arizona Health Sciences,” said May Khanna, an assistant professor of pharmacology who will be teaching the course. “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.”

While developing their drug, students will also consult with drug-discovery experts from the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law, the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, the Honors College and private pharmaceutical companies.

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At the end of the semester, the students will participate in a “Shark Tank”-style competition where they will pitch their drugs, as well as their potential start-up companies, to a panel of judges. The panel will include leaders from Tech Launch Arizona, business and law students from the UA as well as faculty members and researchers from 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, dean of the UA’s College of Pharmacy.

Tech Launch Arizona, which provides services and support for faculty, staff and students to become successful entrepreneurs, has joined the College of Medicine in providing funding for the course and will also provide financial support for students to launch startup companies at the end of the semester.

This is a great opportunity for students to learn about not just developing impactful drugs, but also the process of bringing them to the world through commercialization,” said Paul Tumarkin, senior manager of marketing and communications for Tech Launch Arizona. “Dr. Khanna has been a wonderful partner and Tech Launch Arizona is excited to play a role in supporting the program.”

Contact reporter Jasmine Demers at

On Twitter: @JasmineADemers


Jasmine joined the Star in 2019. With a master’s degree in journalism, Jasmine served in a variety of leadership roles, including The Daily Wildcat's editor-in-chief. She was also named Outstanding Newsperson of the Year by the UA School of Journalism.