CPRIT awards millions for San Antonio cancer research

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) on Feb. 19 awarded 55 new grants totaling more than $78 million, including significant awards to UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

A $4 million Rising Star award will support UT Health San Antonio’s recruitment of structural biologist Shaun Olsen, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Olsen will join the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology in the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio and will be an investigator in the university’s Mays Cancer Center.

“Dr. Olsen will introduce cryo-electron microscopy to our growing structural biology program,” said Patrick Sung, D.Phil., professor and interim chairman of biochemistry and structural biology at UT Health San Antonio. “Cryo-electron microscopy is a state-of-the-art structural biology tool that allows investigators to obtain high-resolution structures of protein complexes. It can certainly be used to pinpoint prime targets for novel cancer therapies. This technology will greatly complement X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance expertise that we already have on campus.”

Dr. Olsen will also work with the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery, a research center offered jointly by UT Health San Antonio and UTSA, which received a $6 million recruitment grant from CPRIT to attract a researcher to work with the same center.

Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute researcher Manjeet Rao, Ph.D., professor of cell systems and anatomy, was awarded $1.2 million for studies of an enzyme protein that helps osteosarcoma cells spread. Dr. Rao’s team, which includes co-principal investigator Yogesh Gupta, Ph.D., assistant professor of biochemistry and structural biology, has identified a small molecule that can inhibit this activity.

Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer in children. Over the past 30 years, no new drugs have been approved to treat it.

CPRIT also awarded a $3 million “seed” award for product development research to Dialectic Therapeutics, Inc., a Dallas-based company, for “Developing a First-In-Class BCL-XL Proteolysis Targeting Chimera (BCL- PROTAC) for Cancer Therapy.”

Robert Hromas, M.D., FACP, dean of the Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, is an unpaid co-founder of Dialectic Therapeutics, Inc.

Also, University Health System received a nearly $1 million CPRIT grant for its work in combating the high rate of tobacco use among individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Bexar County.

“I’m excited about all the awardees, particularly those in San Antonio, a region that continues to expand its cancer research and prevention prowess,” said Wayne Roberts, CPRIT’s chief executive officer. “San Antonio is poised to have an even greater impact across the Texas cancer-fighting ecosystem.”

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