UT Health institutions gain $6 million to study cancer fighting antibody

Erase Cancer

Scientists at UT Health San Antonio and UTHealth in Houston are receiving $6 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Defense to expand studies of a therapeutic antibody, the two UT health-related institutions announced today.

The scientists are developing an innovative antibody-based drug to stem the spread of breast cancer to bone. This spread, called metastasis, is linked to a dramatic reduction in survival rates.

The lead principal investigator is Jean Jiang, Ph.D., the Ashbel Smith Professor at UT Health San Antonio and the associate director of the Joint Biomedical Engineering Graduate Program of UT Health San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Antibodies are part of the body’s natural defenses and can be optimized to perform specific tasks,” Dr. Jiang said. “In this case, an antibody activates the connexin channels in bone cells, which protects skeletal tissue from breast cancer colonization and invasion.”

UT Health San Antonio received $3.2 million for preclinical testing in the joint project. “Research from my laboratory shows the functional role of these channels in suppressing breast cancer invasion and bone metastases. This provides a potential therapeutic target for drug development in breast cancer,” said Dr. Jiang, professor of biochemistry and structural anatomy in the Joe R. & Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

McGovern Medical School at UTHealth received $2.8 million for drug development. “Current treatment options are limited for breast cancer bone metastasis,” said Zhiqiang An, Ph.D., professor and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at McGovern Medical School. “There is thus an urgent need to develop new and specific therapies with improved therapeutic efficacies and fewer side effects.”

Dr. An is Dr. Jiang’s partner principal investigator on the project.

Dr. An said the antibody drug discovery expertise in the Texas Therapeutics Institute (TTI) helped advance the basic discovery from the Jiang laboratory to preclinical drug development. Founded in 2010, the TTI is an academic drug discovery center housed in the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at UTHealth.

The goal of Drs. Jiang and An is to develop a less toxic treatment and reduce deaths tied to the spread of breast cancer to the bone. At the end of the study, the researchers hope to have a drug that can advance to clinical trials.

“With 1.3 million soldiers deployed around the world, the DOD supports research designed to increase the health of its employees and citizens of United States,” Dr. Jiang. “Dr. An and I appreciate the DOD’s commitment to translational drug discovery.”

Not counting some kinds of skin cancer, breast cancer in the United States is the most common cancer in women. In 2014, 236,968 women and 2,141 men in the U.S. were diagnosed with breast cancer and 41,211 women and 465 men died from the disease.

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