UT Health San Antonio and affiliated researchers awarded $23 million in latest CPRIT funding cycle

Cancer research photo

Media contact: Will Sansom, 210-567-2579, sansom@uthscsa.edu

SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 23, 2021) – Cancer research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also referred to as UT Health San Antonio, is getting a $23 million boost from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Various laboratories of UT Health San Antonio will benefit from $5.6 million in new CPRIT support, while an additional $3 million will expand drug development research conducted at both the health science center and The University of Texas at San Antonio. Meanwhile, a Dallas life sciences company co-founded by one of UT Health San Antonio’s academic cancer leaders will receive a CPRIT award of $14.4 million. The company is testing a first-in-class cancer drug in a phase 1 clinical trial at the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson.

Flow cytometry: Measuring cells’ properties

UT Health San Antonio gained a CPRIT Core Facility Support Award of $3,645,500 to upgrade its flow cytometry center.

Flow cytometry diagram. Image courtesy of Creative Commons, unknown author.

Flow cytometry is a laboratory method that measures physical and chemical characteristics of cells including cell size and structural complexity, and the presence of specific molecules such as tumor biomarkers in blood, bone marrow and other tissues. A flow cytometry instrument performs these measurements by passing a population of cells single file through a laser beam. Cells are tagged beforehand with fluorescent molecules that emit different colors of light in response to the laser. This allows the flow cytometer to detect, count and purify cells with specific characteristics.

“This CPRIT award will enable us to purchase several new state-of-the-art flow cytometry instruments and to detect many more cellular characteristics in a single experimental or clinical sample than is currently possible,” said Michael Berton, PhD, scientific director of the UT Health San Antonio/Mays Cancer Center Flow Cytometry Shared Resource.

These new capabilities will have a significant impact on the cancer research performed at UT Health San Antonio, Dr. Berton said. Researchers will gain the maximum amount of critical clinical and/or experimental information from cancer cell samples in the shortest time possible, he said.

Sacituzumab: Will it work in glioblastoma?

William Kelly, MD, of the Mays Cancer Center won a CPRIT Early Clinical Investigator Award of $1,499,985. Dr. Kelly is a medical oncologist specializing in brain cancer. His research focuses on translating existing drugs, which have shown benefit in other types of cancer, into therapies for tumors of the central nervous system.

Dr. William Kelly
William Kelly, MD

“Glioblastoma is the most common and aggressive form of brain cancer,” Dr. Kelly said. “This CPRIT award will support our investigation of Sacituzumab, a new drug that has recently shown much success in the treatment of breast cancer, for applications in patients with recurrent glioblastoma.”

The drug combines an antibody, which targets a protein made by glioblastoma, with a chemotherapy “payload,” Dr. Kelly said. “By using advanced imaging and molecular testing, this study will seek to understand not only whether the drug prolongs survival in glioblastoma, but also the mechanism by which it does so,” he said.

“Building the next generation of physician-scientists is critical to reducing the burden of cancer in our community,” said Jennifer Potter, PhD, vice president for research at UT Health San Antonio. “This CPRIT award provides Dr. Kelly the time and resources to become a leading cancer investigator to serve our community.”

Studies of chemotherapy pain control, tumor suppression

UT Health San Antonio faculty also attracted two CPRIT High-Impact/High-Risk Research Awards. These awards fund projects that, if proven in concept, may garner significant National Institutes of Health or other funding down the line.

Alexei Tumanov, MD, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, will receive $249,996 for his study titled “Targeting Lymphotoxin Beta Receptor in Sensory Neurons for Control of Chemotherapy-Induced Neuropathic Pain.”

Weixing Zhao, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology and investigator with the health science center’s Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute, will receive $250,000 for his study titled “Deciphering BRCA1-BARD1 E3 Ligase Activity in Genome Maintenance and Tumor Suppression.”

Drug discovery: Targeting ‘undruggable’ proteins

A second CPRIT Core Facility Support Award of $3,087,131 will be administered by the health science center’s sister institution, UT San Antonio, to enhance the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery (CIDD), a joint project of the health science center and UT San Antonio.

“This award will allow CIDD to continue providing high-impact services to investigators in the San Antonio area,” said CIDD Co-Director Matthew Hart, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry and structural biology at UT Health San Antonio. “In addition to current capabilities, this award will allow CIDD to provide services in the area of targeted protein degradation (using molecules called PROTACs) as well as methods to target ‘undruggable’ proteins for therapeutic intervention. This second CPRIT award to CIDD validates the approaches, services and capabilities of CIDD.”

First-in-class therapy in phase 1 testing at Mays Cancer Center

A CPRIT Texas Company Product Development Award of $14,449,638 will support Dallas-based Dialectic Therapeutics Inc. in clinical development of a first-in-class cancer therapy. The drug in phase 1 testing at the Mays Cancer Center is a unique compound built with the company’s proprietary and novel technology platform, a company release said.

Robert Hromas, MD, FACP, dean of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio, is an unpaid co-founder of Dialectic Therapeutics.

David Genecov, MD, president, CEO and co-founder of Dialectic Therapeutics, is a 1990 graduate of the Long School of Medicine.

CPRIT announced the latest awards Aug. 18.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, also referred to as UT Health San Antonio, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities and is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution by the U.S. Department of Education. With missions of teaching, research, patient care and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have graduated 39,700 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields, and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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