Multimillion-dollar NIH grant to boost innovative ovarian cancer drug development

Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio


The Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio and a local partner have been awarded a five-year, $3.3 million Academic Industry Partnership grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It is the first grant of this kind awarded to UT Health San Antonio.

The multimillion-dollar grant is part of a collaboration between Mays Cancer Center and Evestra Inc., a San Antonio-based biopharmaceutical company. NIH recently established the program to encourage formation of academic-industrial partnerships. The grant serves as validation of the fruitful collaboration between Mays Cancer Center and Evestra to mitigate cancer.

Mays Cancer Center is one of only four National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Centers in Texas and is the only one in South Texas. This designation signifies the institution’s commitment to maintaining high levels of excellence in cancer care, prevention and research, while offering clinical trials to eligible patients.

Evestra, co-founded with Texas Biomedical Research Institute, is dedicated to the development of treatments for unmet medical needs in women’s health including oncology indications like ovarian cancer. Evestra’s efforts in oncology are spearheaded by Hareesh Nair, PhD, director of biology research. Dr. Nair leads the discovery and development of EC359 as a first-in-class proprietary anticancer drug.

The grant will be split between the two organizations. Mays Cancer Center will use $1.8 million to study the mechanism, safety and efficacy of EC359, while the biopharmaceutical company will use $1.5 million for drug manufacturing, toxicity and formulation studies.

“Receiving support from NIH will enhance and elevate our research in treating ovarian cancer,” said Ratna K. Vadlamudi, PhD, professor and vice chair of research in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at UT Health San Antonio. “Together with Dr. Nair and his team from Evestra, we will test the utility of EC359, a drug inhibitor used to target and prevent the growth of cancer cells. Ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers in the United States, and there is a critical need for developing novel therapies to treat the cancer.”

Joining Dr. Vadlamudi are UT Health San Antonio scientists and physicians with various experience in cancer research and care: Suryavathi Viswanadhapalli, PhD, Rajeshwar Tekmal, PhD, Zhenming Xu, PhD, Edward Kost, MD, Philip Valente, MD, and Gangadhara Sareddy, PhD.

The Academic Industry Partnership grant provides support for completing much-needed preclinical data before the drug is submitted for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enter the first-in-human clinical phase.

“We are grateful to Dr. Vadlamudi and the UT Health San Antonio team for the multi-year fruitful academic-industrial collaboration that led to this important NIH grant in the ovarian cancer area,” said Ze’ev Shaked, PhD, president and CEO of Evestra Inc.

The American Cancer Society estimates about 19,880 women will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer this year, and about 12,810 women will die from the disease. Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. A woman has a one in 78 chance of developing ovarian cancer in her lifetime. About half the women diagnosed with the cancer are aged 63 years or older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states treatment for ovarian cancer usually involves a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. EC359 is being studied as a stand-alone therapy as well as in combination with other drug treatments.

For patients, the research and development of EC359 means a novel therapy drug can be used to curb the progression of ovarian cancer cells.

For more information about the Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio, visit

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