SAN ANTONIO (February 19, 2015) — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded $6.6 million in both research and product development grants to researchers at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
In product development, a $2 million grant from CPRIT is giving a boost to a promising new brain cancer therapy’s move beyond academia to potentially help many more patients.
“This will help us transition from an academic research project to a viable treatment option available to help brain tumor patients across the country,” said Andrew Brenner, M.D., Ph.D., a neuro-oncologist at the CTRC who will lead the clinical trial.
The state-founded CPRIT on Wednesday also awarded CTRC researchers four individual investigator grants for $4.6 million. They support work ranging from reducing chemotherapy’s painful side effects to unmasking resveratrol’s potential in managing prostate cancer. Final award amounts may vary.
The product development grant is for NanoTx Therapeutics, a company formed to accelerate clinical trials of a highly-promising nanotechnology that inserts radioactive isotopes into tiny fat particles, allowing concentrated radiation treatment precisely in the tumor. The process allows doctors to give far higher doses of radiation than current technology while minimizing side effects to healthy tissue.
The grant will help NanoTx Therapeutics with the expensive drug development process, but also will help the young company develop a management infrastructure and tackle the regulatory process involved in commercializing a new technology.
The first clinical trial of the much-anticipated treatment has also been approved and should begin within a few weeks.
“The CTRC and the UT Health Science Center have all the pieces in one place to accelerate the development of new therapies into commercial products,” said CTRC Director Ian M. Thompson Jr., M.D. “The critical mass of scientists, technology, clinicians, and an institutional focus on providing innovative treatments to our own patients, creates the conditions for a true flowering of our high-tech medical industry here in San Antonio. The investment of the CTRC Foundation, coupled with this vote of confidence from CPRIT, is invaluable in moving this treatment into the clinic where we can help patients.”
The technology was developed by a team led by nuclear medicine physician William T. Phillips, M.D., and biochemist Beth A. Goins, Ph.D., in the Department of Radiology; and Ande Bao, Ph.D., a medical physicist and pharmaceutical chemist formerly in the Department of Otolaryngology, all of the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center.
Insight into Ewing’s Sarcoma: Alexander Bishop, D.Phil., associate professor of cellular and structural biology, $2 million, 4-year grant
Ewing’s Sarcoma is a cancer that forms in the bones or soft tissue, mostly in children and adolescents. Dr. Bishop and his team have taken a closer look at some of the changes that occur when this cancer develops, and they discovered a defect in the cellular DNA repair process called homologous recombination. This process is the same one that is defective in BRCA1 mutant breast and ovarian cancers. Dr. Bishop’s team will study whether there is a relationship with BRCA1 biology and also look at which patients would benefit from therapies that target the homologous recombination instead of standard chemotherapies.
Developing a one-two-three punch drug for lymphoma: Ricardo Aguiar, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and biochemistry in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center, $900,000, 3-year grant
Lymphomas develop out of white blood cells called B lymphocytes, and to live and grow they require survival signals transmitted by the B cell receptor (BCR).
Researchers have had some success developing “inhibitor” drugs that target two BCR-related enzymes necessary to the development of lymphomas, but the tumors often become resistant to these drugs after a time. Dr. Aguiar’s group is focused on a third enzyme, and they want to incorporate an inhibitor for this into a therapy that will then target the enzymes in combination for better response rates and reduced resistance.
The CPRIT grant will fund pre-clinical work and a first-in-human clinical trial at the CTRC with Steven Weitman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute for Drug Development at the CTRC.
Learning how to stop the painful side effects of chemotherapy: James D. Stockand, Ph.D., professor of physiology, $844,000, 3-year grant
The goal of Stockand’s team is to understand the cause of peripheral neuropathy — painful damage to nerve cells sometimes caused by life-saving anticancer drugs. “We hope to better understand and be able to counter these side effects to increase the effectiveness of key antitumor drugs,” Dr. Stockand said. The team includes Benjamin Eaton, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and Kenneth M. Hargreaves, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chairman of endodontics in the School of Dentistry.
The benefits of resveratrol in keeping prostate cancer at bay: A. Pratap Kumar, Ph.D., professor of urology, $900,000, 3-year gran
Many men will develop low-grade prostate cancers that may never need to be treated. Currently many are advised to participate in active surveillance, which involves regular monitoring of their PSA levels. Resveratrol is a natural compound found in red grapes, red wine and some nuts and berries. “Interestingly, population-based studies have demonstrated significantly decreased risk of prostate cancer in men consuming red wine,” Dr. Kumar said. Dr. Kumar’s team will conduct a laboratory study on the compound’s effect on prostate cancers. If successful, the data will be used to start clinical trials with patients testing resveratrol for prostate cancer management.
The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit www.ctrc.net.