Research into the cause of why some tumors are able to evade targeted treatment was awarded a $900,000 grant from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The investigation is being led by Zhiqiang An, PhD, a recognized investigator and specialist in therapeutic antibodies from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).
The work being conducted by Dr. An, a professor of molecular medicine and the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth, focuses on the most recent innovations regarding cancer treatment and targeted therapies, which is expected to improve the effectiveness of health care and decrease damages caused to healthy tissue that is not affected by cancer.
The researcher, who is also the director of the Texas Therapeutics Institute (TTI), the academic drug discovery program at UTHealth, is looking to investigate the mechanisms behind targeted therapy resistance in tumors, and expects to develop a novel method to invert the resistance of these tumors to antibody treatment.
Targeted treatment using antibody proteins are designed to imprison tumor cells, inhibiting their growth. Despite the fact that there are already several antibody-based therapies approved for the treatment of cancer, there are still tumors that remain resistant to targeted therapy. “This research could improve the success of immunotherapy drugs and in turn lower mortality rates,” said Dr. An in a press release.
Normally, antibodies are developed by the body as a natural defense against cancer, but certain tumors can escape an immune response by destroying antibodies. “We’re developing therapeutic strategies to counter tumors’ resistance to both naturally occurring antibodies and therapeutic antibody immune therapies,” explained Dr. An, who is working in collaboration with researcher Chengcheng “Alec” Zhang, Ph.D., of The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was also awarded a $2 million grant from CPRIT.
Numerous types of cancer can develop this ability to escape targeted therapy, but the two investigators want to focus their research on a specific type of leukemia in the hopes they can develop a novel treatment based on an antibody already proved effective in a mouse model of the disease. “If all goes well, we will have an anti-leukemia antibody that is ready for a clinical trial,” said Dr. An.
“Dr. An’s outstanding academic program exemplifies the important translational research mission of the IMM,” noted John F. Hancock, MB, B.Chir, PhD, the executive director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and the John S. Dunn Distinguished University Chair in Physiology and Medicine at UTHealth.
The executive vice president for academic and research affairs and holder of the Roger J. Bulger, M.D., Distinguished Professorship at UTHealth, George Stancel, PhD, added that “this award to Dr. An demonstrates UTHealth’s and the TTI’s commitment to translating basic biological discoveries into products and technologies that will be used to treat disease and improve health. Dr. An is clearly one of our leaders in this area and his work will have widespread application.”