We’re partnering with 60° Pharmaceuticals to test furin, a human proteinase, as a drug target for the treatment of dengue fever, one of the most common infectious diseases in the tropics and subtropics. 60° Pharmaceuticals, a philanthropic-for-profit company focused on neglected and rare diseases, will provide funding for the first phase of our research to explore inhibitors of furin.
On Memorial Day, members of our military—including those who have sacrificed their lives or have returned to us with injuries or illness—will receive much-deserved thanks and recognition. Whether you attend a parade, observe a moment of silence for those lost, or simply shake a soldier’s hand and say, “thank you,” you will find your way of expressing your gratitude. At Sanford-Burnham, we support the U.S. armed services by doing what we do best: science.
Sanford-Burnham’s headquarters in San Diego County place it in the midst of one of the largest active duty military populations in the country and the largest concentration of soldiers wounded in combat. Additionally, both states where Sanford-Burnham has locations, California and Florida, are among those with the largest populations of veterans. So the men and women who defend us are always on our minds. In honor of Memorial Day weekend, we have chosen to highlight some of the ways we strive to defend them in return.
Last week, faculty from California State University, Fresno (Fresno State) and Sanford-Burnham met to define the next steps in the Collaborative Project in Cancer Health Disparities Research.
Sanford-Burnham, Fresno State, and the Central Valley Health Policy Institute share this collaborative project, funded by the National Cancer Institute. Their mission is to train undergraduate and graduate students for future cancer research careers and enhance cancer research potential at Fresno State (a minority-serving institution). The three-year grant gives Fresno State minority students the opportunity to spend a summer in Sanford-Burnham laboratories, where they become more familiar with biomedical research.
Sanford-Burnham has entered an agreement with Oncothyreon Inc that will allow the biotechnology company to develop sabutoclax, a chemical discovered as a result of research in the laboratories of Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia and Dr. John Reed, into a potential new anti-cancer drug. Sabutoclax inhibits a family of proteins called Bcl-2, which helps cells avoid self-destructing in a process known as apoptosis. By tempering Bcl-2, sabutoclax shows great promise in blocking cancer cell growth.
“Overexpression of one or more members of the Bcl-2 family of proteins is common in most human cancers,” said Dr. Scott Peterson, Vice President of Research and Development at Oncothyreon. “This overexpression prevents the type of cell death known as apoptosis, resulting in resistance to many frequently used cancer treatments. By blocking Bcl-2 protein function, sabutoclax induces apoptosis in tumor cells and increases the activity of chemotherapy. Sabutoclax inhibits all of the Bcl-2 protein family members, which may prove advantageous when compared with other compounds directed at these targets.”
“We are confident that we have found a strong development partner in the Oncothyreon team that is dedicated to advancing sabutoclax into the clinic for patients battling with cancer,” said Dr. Reed, who has extensively published on the role of Bcl-2 proteins in cancer and also serves as Sanford-Burnham’s CEO.
As the United States pauses to observe the 10th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, we reflect on the research advances that contribute to new counterterrorism measures—understanding anthrax, for example—and the health of our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, including under-studied conditions such as traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here are a few examples, and these only cover discoveries made at Sanford-Burnham since September 11, 2001. Can you think of more? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
May is National Cancer Research Month, created by Congress in 2007 to recognize the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) for its contributions to the field. To honor AACR and highlight some of the important cancer research being done at Sanford-Burnham, we will be posting a series of articles on the ongoing work in our National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center. The vast majority of this research is made possible by funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which includes the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
Fighting cancer is one of the most difficult problems humans have ever tackled. Cancer is versatile: it grows rapidly, adapts to difficult environments and hides well. Defeating it will not be easy, but scientists are also taking a versatile approach—one that involves collaborations between many disciplines.
One such collaboration combines the talents of Dr. Elena Pasquale, a biologist, Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia, a chemist and Dr. Paul Fisher, who directs the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University. Dr. Pasquale has spent years studying the interplay between Eph cell surface receptors and ephrin proteins. Eph receptors are like antennae protruding from the surface of a cell. They foster cell communication by binding to ephrin proteins on the surfaces of neighboring cells. Eph receptors also appear more often in cancer cells than normal ones. Dr. Pasquale and Dr. Pellecchia began to wonder if they could use this deep understanding of Eph/ephrin interactions to create a compound that attaches selectively to Eph and combine it with medicine—creating a guided missile with a potent anti-cancer payload.
Cancer cells use anti-apoptotic (anti-cell death) proteins in the Bcl-2 family to evade treatment. Even when slammed with harsh doses of radiation or chemotherapy, cancer cells can harness these proteins to evade death. However, that escape route may be closing. In the past few days, Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia has published two papers that shed new light on how Bcl-2 proteins work and how we can defeat them.
One way to beat Bcl-2 is to attack the protein rather than the gene. Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia’s laboratory has been working with Gossypol, a natural product extracted from cotton seeds, which he discovered binds to and neutralizes the Bcl-2 protein. The team chemically modified Gossypol to improve its ability to target Bcl-2, increasing its anti-cancer properties and reducing its toxicity.
Dr. Pellecchia’s research strongly suggests that this new compound, Apogossypol, has great potential as a cancer treatment. In addition to spurring cancer cells to commit suicide, the compound also makes them less resistant to chemotherapy. Dr. Pellecchia thinks Apogossypol may be used to maximize the efficacy of various chemotherapies.
Denny Sanford and Malin Burnham are the latest in a long line of partnerships to advance the Institute’s important work, starting with co-founders Dr. William and Lillian Fishman.
In fact, collaboration is one of Sanford-Burnham’s most cherished values and has led to many successes in the laboratory. Biologists, chemists, pharmacologists, physicists, engineers and others routinely cross disciplinary boundaries to find solutions to pressing medical problems.