CPRIT grant funds research for new antibody-based cancer drugs

By Debbie Bolles / August 2011

Research is under way at UT Southwestern to develop more effective antibody-based drugs that destroy the blood vessels that nourish tumors, killing cancer without harming healthy tissue.

Dr. E. Sally Ward (center) and her co-investigators Drs. Philip Thorpe (left) and Ralph Mason received a $4.57 million grant from CPRIT.

A $4.57 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas is funding
UT Southwestern’s portion of the project, which is led by Dr. E. Sally Ward, professor of immunology and in the Cancer Immunobiology Center. Co-investigators are Dr. Philip Thorpe, professor of pharmacology in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center; Dr. Ralph Mason, professor of radiology; and Dr. Raimund Ober, adjunct professor of immunology at UT Southwestern and professor of electrical engineering at UT Dallas.

Over the next five years, the research team hopes to generate two or three promising cancer drugs that can be taken to clinical trials. This research builds on earlier work by Dr. Thorpe, who discovered bavituximab, a drug of the same type now in clinical trials for cancer treatment.

“Antibodies as therapeutics tend to be a lot more site-specific and have many less side effects than chemotherapy drugs,” said Dr. Ward, whose expertise is in protein and antibody engineering.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 20 antibody-based drugs, with about half targeting cancer. Rituxan, the first monoclonal antibody for cancer treatment, was approved in 1997.

Dr. Thorpe holds the Serena S. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Cancer Immunopharmacology.

Dr. Ward holds the Paul and Betty Meek-FINA Professorship in Molecular Immunology.