Published July 10, 2020
Joseph Balthasar, professor of pharmaceutical sciences in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, received a new $1.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to improve delivery of targeted therapies to cancer cells.
The research aims to test three platform strategies designed to enhance the distribution of anticancer antibodies and antibody conjugates (targeted drugs designed for treating cancer) within solid tumors.
The new grant complements efforts underway in Balthasar’s lab to develop anticancer antibody conjugates — funded by a second $1.8 million grant from NCI in 2016 — and to decrease toxicity of anticancer antibody therapies.
“Although advances have been made in the treatment of cancer, therapy is inadequate for many patients, and it is projected that there will be over 600,000 cancer deaths in the U.S. in 2020,” says Balthasar. “Many of these deaths will result from cancers that develop as solid tumors, which are particularly difficult to treat with chemotherapy or with biological drugs.”
Dhaval Shah, associate professor in the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, is co-principal investigator. The study builds off of prior research conducted by recent UB graduates from Balthasar’s lab, including Lubna Abuqayyas, Frank Engler and Ryan Polli.
Anticancer antibodies demonstrate limited distribution in solid tumors due to the cancer’s pathophysiologic characteristics, some of which include chaotic cellular growth, dense extracellular matrices (a network of molecules that provide support to surrounding cells), and disorganized blood vessels.
The platform strategies under design by the researchers aim to overcome these complications by creating adjuvants that enable antibodies to bypass the binding-site barrier within tumors; targeted enzymes that destroy collagen matrices in tumors; and pH-dependent antibodies that are resistant to catabolism (breakdown) within tumor cells.
The approaches may be used to improve current therapies for all cancers that develop as solid tumors, including breast, lung, colorectal and prostate cancers, says Balthasar.
“Given the high rate of incidence of cancer, with approximately 1.7 million new cases and 600,000 deaths each year in the United States, this project, if successful, may have a substantial impact on human health,” he says.