Balthasar awarded $1.8 million grant to improve safety of cancer treatments

Cancer cell.

By Kara Sweet

Published June 3, 2020

Joseph Balthasar, BS '91 & PhD '96, professor, pharmaceutical sciences, has received a new $1.8 million R01 grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to develop strategies to improve the safety and efficacy of anti-cancer antibodies and antibody-drug conjugates.

A new approach to antibodies

“[T]he three approaches pursued in this project may be widely applied to many anticancer antibodies that are in current use and in development. ”
Pharmaceutical Sciences

The project, which is titled Pharmacokinetic strategies to increase monoclonal antibody uptake, distribution, and efficacy for treatment of solid tumors (CA246785), will test three new approaches to enhance the uptake and distribution of antibodies in tumors, including transient inhibition of antibody binding to bypass the “binding site barrier”, development of pH-dependent antibodies to avoid the “catabolic sink” in tumors, and use of nanobody-enzyme conjugates to modulate the intra-tumoral extracellular matrix.

Balthasar indicated that “[E]ach of the three approaches pursued in this project may be considered as a ‘platform strategy’, which may be widely applied to many anticancer antibodies that are in current use and in development." The group also recently submitted two provisional patent applications that relate to the research.

The new project adds to Balthasar’s current work, which includes support from a separate $1.8 million NCI R01 grant, evaluates new strategies to deliver protein toxins to the cytoplasm of targeted cancer cells (CA204192, Catch and Release Immunotoxins: CAR-Bombs for cancer). Balthasar is also preparing an additional $1.9 million NCI R01 application to further support his research.

Pharmaceutical sciences team effort

Balthasar credits several members of his lab and collaborating scientists as key contributors. Dhaval Shah, PhD '10, associate professor, pharmaceutical sciences, has joined Balthasar as a principal investigator on the new NCI grant. Other key contributing members include Maureen Adolf, medical laboratory assistant, pharmaceutical sciences, and Brandon Bordeau, PhD '20.

This current work builds off of prior research conducted by some of Balthasar’s recent PhD graduates, including Ryan Polli, PhD '19 (Novartis), Frank Engler, PhD '16 (Certara), and Lubna Abuqayyas, PhD '12 (Amgen).

For over 130 years, the University at Buffalo School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has continually been a leader in the education of pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists, renowned for innovation in clinical practice and research. The school is accredited by the American Council of Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) and is the No. 1 ranked school of pharmacy in New York State and No. 14 in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.