Chemistry and Cancer
The design and use of small drug-like molecules and associated molecular probes to discover, interrogate, and target biological pathways relevant to cancer.
The Chemistry and Cancer Program combines the expertise of researchers including synthetic and medicinal chemists, molecular biologists, biochemists, structural biologists, and clinician-scientists to discover, design, and optimize drug-like small molecules that regulate biological pathways deregulated in cancer. The program engages more than two dozen members drawn from a range of departments and centers on campus.
The program’s discovery process takes one of two approaches. For a chemistry-to-biology approach, discovery starts by identifying natural or unnatural small molecules that are selectively lethal to human cancer cell lines, then determining exactly how the small molecules have their effect. In a biology-to-chemistry approach, hypotheses regarding the “druggability” and cancer relevance of specific biological pathways investigated by Cancer Center scientists can be tested with drug-like chemicals.
- Molecular targets of cancer cell–specific small-molecule toxins
- Novel, cancer cell–specific pathways
- Proof-of-concept preclinical development of cancer cell–specific small-molecule toxins
- The hypoxia response pathway
Center for High-Throughput Functional Annotation of Natural Products (HiFAN). Supported by nearly $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center investigators (with collaborators at Simon Fraser University) are developing an innovative research paradigm to characterize the mechanisms of action of natural products and botanicals more quickly and precisely. The approach incorporates natural products chemistry, biological screening, data analytics, and bioinformatics, combining two high-throughput platforms (cytological profiling and a technique called FUSION, developed at UT Southwestern) to discern in greater detail the impact on cells of both complex chemical mixtures and pure natural compounds. The project also will develop a data-driven website to make findings available widely within the scientific community.
- Selected citation: Hu, Y. et al. Discoipyrroles A-D: isolation, structure determination, and synthesis of potent migration inhibitors from Bacillus hunanensis. J Am Chem Soc 135, 13387-13392 (2013).
HIF-2α and kidney cancer. More than a decade of research by Simmons Cancer Center biochemists, biophysicists, and chemists has elucidated the workings of hypoxia inducible factor-2α, a master regulator that responds to changes in tissue oxygen levels encountered by tumors and determines whether genes that help cancer cells survive and proliferate are activated downstream. HIF-2α, once considered “undruggable,” has been implicated in development and progression of several types of cancer. Now, the first HIF-2α antagonist to enter clinical development, a Peloton Therapeutics drug candidate called PT2385, is in early patient trials at UT Southwestern. Preclinical work has shown that PT2385 can suppress gene expression that fuels tumor growth, progression, and blood vessel development in some kidney cancers.
- Selected citation: Scheuermann, T.H. et al. Allosteric inhibition of hypoxia inducible factor-2 with small molecules. Nat Chem Biol 9, 271-6 (2013).
To Get Involved
Program meetings are held every other Friday morning. The program seeks additional physicians and scientists having both broader and deeper understanding of human cancer to advance collaboration in new scientific directions for high-throughput screening assays, medicinal chemistry projects, and new natural product opportunities.
Contact Dr. De Brabander for more details about the Chemistry and Cancer Program, meetings, and more. firstname.lastname@example.org
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