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With a patented treatment for breast-cancer tumors and newly formed company, a University of Arizona researcher is poised to move her research out of the lab and into the clinical setting.

Joyce Schroeder has discovered two proteins that work together to drive triple-negative breast cancer. She’s since developed a drug that has been proven in mice to reduce tumor size and prevent metastasis to other parts of the body.

“The best part of the story is that these proteins only interact in cancer cells, avoid toxicity to the body’s other cells,” said Schroeder, a researcher and professor who works in the UA’s Cancer Biology program.

The Cancer Biology program was founded in 1978 and its primary focus is to gain an understanding of how cancer works at a cellular level, how normal cells turn malignant and how tumor cells grow and spread.

Schroeder says she hopes to move her treatment into the human clinical trial phase within the next year.

“Right now we’re doing the work to prove to the FDA that PMIP is nontoxic before we can move into phase one clinical trials,” she said.

The drug, PMIP —Protein Transduction Domain 4, MUC1 Inhibitory Peptide — blocks the proteins’ ability to bind, shrinking the tumor in size and inhibiting metastasis.

Schroeder and her husband, Todd Caminisch, a professor at the University’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, partnered with investor Robert Sarver to create Arizona Cancer Therapeutics in 2013.

Since its formation, the company has also received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to help further development of PMIP.

Once they begin the clinical trial, she’d like to partner with a larger biotechnology company to move past the trial phase.

“It takes about million to million dollars to get to the clinical trial phase, but around 0 million to move past,” she said.

Schroeder rents her lab space from the UA and continues to work in conjunction with the Cancer Biology program.

Schroeder’s research is just one of the program’s projects, and newly appointed Scientific Director Nathan Ellis is enthusiastic about moving forward with more.

“DNA sequencing has become big in cancer biology,” Ellis said. “By developing personalized medication, we’re able to treat patients with the right drug for the right tumor at the right time.”

Sequencing allows for same-day analysis on a molecular level of each individual patient’s cancer genomes. This makes for a more specific diagnosis and targeted drug treatments to use in conjunction with broader treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

According to Ellis, DNA sequencing has shown promising results over the years as the technology continues to advance.

“Years ago, childhood leukemia had less than a 10 percent survival rate, but now, it’s closer to 90 percent, in part because of sequencing,” he said.

In June, the UA Genetics Core facility received accreditation from the College of American Pathologists, allowing it to expand its services to provide health care in addition to just research.

As an accredited laboratory, the Genetics Core facility can provide clinical testing for physicians and results for clinical trials.

It also means that a doctor can order genetic testing for patients through the facility with the possibility of reimbursement by the patient’s health-care provider.

“This kind of research can have an immediate impact on a patient’s course of treatment,” Ellis said. “We’ll soon be moving to get the sequencing lab involved in clinical trials.”

Although Ellis calls the cancer biology program a work in progress, since the academic year began in August, he’s already implemented changes, with the goal of encouraging the program’s 35 members to interact.

He organized the program’s first research conference and has initiated bi-weekly meetings so that the members can present on the various works in progress and be aware of what others are doing.

“We have researchers with different views and different expertise, who can all benefit from sharing with one another,” Ellis said.

Caitlin Schmidt is a NASA Space Grant intern at the University of Arizona and the Star. Contact her at cschmidt@tucson.com


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