The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center has joined a national network of scientists on the leading edge of drug discovery and development in the fight against cancer, centered at the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research.
The Frederick National Lab, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, is managing the expansion of the Chemical Biology Consortium to 22 sites around the country with world-class expertise in high-throughput screening, structural biology, medicinal chemistry, compound profiling, cancer cell biology, and animal models for oncology. The University of New Mexico received a $375,000 subcontract for infrastructure and project costs associated with its participation in the consortium.
The University of Mexico Health Sciences Center is one of seven dedicated centers that will support drug discovery projects throughout all stages and provide leadership to the consortium. The consortium will also include 15 specialized centers that will provide technologies to advance discovery projects at specific stages of development. The Chemical Biology Consortium is the discovery engine for the NCI Experimental Therapeutics (NExT) Program.
Through the NExT program, scientists nationwide may propose new project concepts for cancer therapies at any stage of discovery or development. Favoring those concepts that the private sector does not pursue, the NExT program refers the top projects to the Chemical Biology Consortium to conduct the scientific work and provides funding for that work.
“The NExT program consolidates programs in [drug] discovery, development and clinical trials,” says Larry Sklar, PhD. “It represents an integrated approach in cancer therapeutics.” The new Center of Excellence, and Sklar’s leadership of it, will help UNM to integrate its own drug development pipeline. “We’ve been asked to form the team which links clinical trials and discovery,” he says.
Sklar plays many roles at UNM Health Sciences Center, which allows him to create and work on projects with far-reaching impact. A Distinguished Professor of Pathology, Sklar serves as Director of the Center for Molecular Discovery. He co-leads the Cancer Therapeutics Research Program at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. And, he directs the Drug Rescue, Repurposing and Repositioning Network at the UNM Clinical and Translational Science Center. Sklar will direct the new Chemical Biology Consortium Center of Excellence at UNM. All of these centers within UNM HSC share methods, technologies and resources.
According to Sklar, the new center will provide expertise in animal modeling, a critical step toward human clinical trials. Sklar says the new center will study not only how well a new drug works but also how it works at the tissue, cellular and molecular levels. The center will use the subcontract funding to develop new methods and tools for these efforts and will also have access to the shared scientific resources within UNM HSC.
The many connections between the centers and scientific resources at UNM, and Sklar’s involvement in several of them, put UNM in a unique position. “We have the capability of collaborating with other cancer centers through the Drug Rescue, Repurposing and Repositioning Network,” says Sklar. “Those cancer therapies [from the Drug Rescue, Repurposing and Repositioning Network] showing the greatest potential will be proposed to the NExT program for further investigation by our center.”
“This is a tremendous opportunity for UNM to move our advanced work in drug discovery into drug development and then clinical trials,” says Richard S. Larson, MD, PhD, UNM HSC executive vice chancellor and vice chancellor for research. “This relationship will enable us to advance our own early-stage molecular and basic research discoveries into clinical therapies. We can move our own therapeutic ideas through the full spectrum of discovery, from concept to commercialization.”
“This subcontract will help us to enhance drug discovery here in New Mexico,” says Cheryl Willman, MD, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “It ties well with our other efforts, including the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network, in which the UNM Cancer Center is a founding member. We look forward to building national and international pharmaceutical interfaces with the new Center that will help our cancer patients here.”
Larry Sklar, PhD, is a University of New Mexico Distinguished Professor in the Department of Pathology at the UNM School of Medicine. He is the Associate Director for Molecular Discovery and holds the The Maralyn S. Budke and Robert E. Anderson Endowed Chair in Cancer Drug Discovery at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. Trained in Chemistry and Biotechnology at Stanford University and a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Sklar is one of UNM and the nation’s most productive scientists and inventors. Through his leadership of the UNM Center for Molecular Discovery, one of nine NIH-funded Drug Screening and Discovery Centers in the U.S., Dr. Sklar and his team have identified many new therapeutic small molecules and cancer drugs through re-purposing. They are now testing these agents in pre-clinical models and clinical trials. Dr. Sklar’s research has led to 35 U.S. Patents and contributed to several biotechnology companies, one based in New Mexico.
Cheryl Willman, MD, is The Maurice and Marguerite Liberman Distinguished Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, Director and Chief Executive Officer of the UNM Cancer Center, and a Distinguished Professor in the departments of Pathology and Internal Medicine at the UNM School of Medicine.
Richard Larson, MD, PhD is the Executive Vice Chancellor of the UNM Health Sciences Center and Senior Associate Dean for Research at the School of Medicine. He is a Professor in the Department of Pathology at the UNM School of Medicine.
The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research is a federal national laboratory sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Frederick National Lab collaborates with academic, commercial, nonprofit, and government researchers to address urgent problems in biomedical research consistent with NCI’s mission. The national lab is government-owned, contractor-operated facility with Leidos Biomedical Research Inc., as its prime contractor. Leidos Biomed awarded the research subcontract to the University of New Mexico.