The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded a $5.3 million grant to a professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) to enable the creation of a facility to assist scientists advancing their research into anticancer antibodies.
The 5-year CPRIT grant is a Core Facilities Support Award awarded to investigator and Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth, Zhiqiang An, PhD. The grant to Dr. An will fund a new facility to be established at the Texas Therapeutics Institute (TTI), the academic drug discovery program at UTHealth directed by Dr. An, and will be called the Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibody Lead Optimization and Development Core.
The new core will be focused on the development of antibodies, which are important immune system components combating infections and cancers, and can be studied to search for and eliminate cancer cells with high specificity and fewer side effects. “We’re helping scientists translate their cancer discoveries into new treatments,” explained in a press release Dr. An. “A majority of the monoclonal antibodies generated in academic laboratories do not advance beyond basic discovery stage.”
The investigator believes that the poor success in advancing antibody-based therapeutics is related to the lack of access to highly specialized protein engineering technologies — an unmet need that he expects to fulfill at the new facility by providing Texas-based researchers state of the art antibody platform technologies. The core will be managed by An in collaboration with UTHealth’s associate professor Ningyan Zhang, PhD.
Dr. An explained that while there are already a series of antibody treatments for cancer available on the market, such as trastuzumab or rituximab, more research and the approval of treatments are both still needed. “We’re developing lots of treatments for the same types of cancer. We need treatments for other types,” he said.
One of An’s collaborators, Philipp Scherer, PhD, who is a researcher, professor and director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, noted his enthusiasm about An’s leadership and working alongside with him. “Dr. An is a world leader in antibody drug discovery with previous experience in industry. This grant will enable him to take his efforts to the next level,” stated Scherer.
Kendra Carmon, PhD, who works with Dr. An at the TTI, was also awarded a $200,000 CPRIT grant in the same round of funding, totaling over $41 million given to scientists in The University of Texas System. Carmon’s grant was awarded for the development of antibodies expected to deliver anticancer toxins to cancer sites with fewer side effects. The investigator works in the laboratory of Qingyun (Jim) Liu, Ph.D., who holds the Janice Davis Gordon Chair for Bowel Cancer Research at UTHealth.
Another researcher whose work will benefit from the new facility is Rong Li, PhD, who serves as professor of molecular medicine and is co-leader of the Cancer Development and Progression Program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “With the CPRIT funding and expertise from the UT anticancer antibody core, we hope to develop an antibody that can specifically inactivate this cell-surface protein and therefore block the tumor-fat cell communication, with the ultimate goal of relieving obesity-associated cancer burden,” Li said.
In addition to this grant to support the establishment of the Therapeutic Monoclonal Antibody Lead Optimization and Development Core, Dr. An had also recently been granted a $900,000 CPRIT grant to advance his research into the cause of why some tumors are able to evade targeted treatment, focusing on the most recent innovations regarding cancer treatment and targeted therapies. The results of the studies are expected to improve the effectiveness of health care and decrease damage caused to healthy tissue that is not affected by cancer.