Investigators awarded $48.2M in CPRIT grants

By Alex Lyda 

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) recently awarded $48.2 million in grants to UT Southwestern Medical Center investigators to support cancer-related projects and to recruit pre-eminent cancer researchers.

The awards, made after a rigorous peer-review process, were among $114 million in grants CPRIT announced Aug. 2 for 45 projects and scientific recruits at Texas-based academic institutions and private firms.

James Willson, M.D.

“Our scientists and clinicians are dedicated to the fight against cancer,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “These awards will allow our investigators, in many instances working closely with colleagues at other institutions, to pursue high-impact work that addresses the most important unanswered questions that will lead to better treatment and prevention.” 

CPRIT was established in 2007 after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the state to fund cancer research and prevention programs. In this latest round of CPRIT grants, UT Southwestern received the most funding of any Texas institution. 

The new grants include seven Multi-Investigator Research Awards – five involving UTSW – that allow “dream teams” of scientists hand-picked from multiple academic institutions to work collaboratively on cancer research pro-jects.

 It also provides funding for 14 pro-jects to expand access to cancer prevention programs across Texas. For instance, to broaden access to screening services, Dr. Samir Gupta, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences, was awarded $2.2 million in support of colorectal cancer screening for the uninsured.

CPRIT awarded $19 million for the recruitment of cancer investigators for multiple-site projects at UT Southwestern and other institutions.

With this round of funding, 429 grants to date have been recommended by CPRIT’s peer-review experts, presented to the institute’s 11-member board, and then approved. Over three years of operations, all grants recommended to the CPRIT Oversight Committee have been funded.

“This latest CPRIT decision recognizes UT Southwestern researchers for top-flight investigations in prostate cancer, childhood sarcoma, and stereotactic radiation therapy.  It also provides us with two program grants that build on our science to discover novel cancer therapeutics,” said Dr. James Willson, Director of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center at UT Southwestern. “The latest grants are another bold step forward in attacking the disease and will accelerate cancer research here.” 

Among grants awarded to UT Southwestern researchers were:

  • $8.2 million to Dr. David Mangelsdorf, Chairman of Pharmacology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, for development of nuclear receptors and co-regulators as diagnostic and therapeutic targets of breast and lung cancer.
  • $7.9 million to Dr. Michael White, Professor of Cell Biology, for research involving innate immunity and cancer.
  • $6.9 million to Dr. Stephen Skapek, Professor of Pediatrics with an appointment in the Simmons Cancer Center, for research involving molecularly targeted therapy for soft-tissue sarcoma.
  • $6.3 million for Dr. Zhi-Ping Liu, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Molecular Biology, for research into epigenetic mechanisms and therapeutic strategies for targeting prostate cancer.
  • $4.1 million to Dr. Robert Timmerman, Professor of Radiation Oncology and Neurological Surgery, for exploiting the radiobiology of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy for lung cancer.

One of the highlights is a collaboration among UT Southwestern, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Baylor College of Medicine aimed at identifying and tracking genetic changes in sarcoma patients across Texas.

Additionally, 20 CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research awards – designed to attract leading cancer scientists to Texas – were funded.

Since its creation, CPRIT has awarded $760 million in grants. To date, UT South-western has received 91 awards totaling $173.5 million.

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Dr. Mangelsdorf holds the Distinguished Chair in Pharmacology, and the Raymond and Ellen Willie Distinguished Chair in Molecular Neuropharmacology in Honor of Harold B. Crasilneck, Ph.D.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O'Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

Dr. Skapek holds the Children's Cancer Fund Distinguished Professorship in Pediatric Oncology Research.

Dr. Timmerman holds the Effie Marie Cain Distinguished Chair in Cancer Therapy Research.

Dr. White holds the Sherry Wigley Crow Cancer Research Endowed Chair in Honor of Robert Lewis Kirby, M.D., and the Grant A. Dove Chair for Research in Oncology.

Dr. Willson holds the Lisa K. Simmons Distinguished Chair in Comprehensive Oncology.

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