Broad-spectrum cancer drug is goal of multinational project

January 15, 2014

A multinational set of seven teams is banding together to develop a drug that may potentially fight many different cancers through an antibody that would work within the body's metabolic system.

Tyler Curiel, M.D., M.P.H., a cancer immunologist at the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and professor in the School of Medicine there, is part of the European Union's TumAdoR project. The project grants $8 million among the researchers over four years to develop an antibody that will block a specific cancer metabolic pathway and reduce its ability to suppress the immune system. The objective is to have the antibody developed and ready for clinical trials at the end of the grant period.

"It can take decades to be in a clinical trial with a new concept and we're trying to do it in four years," Dr. Curiel said. "I think we've got a pretty good shot."

Dr. Curiel is the leader for TumAdoR Project 6, funded at $800,000. His team's mission is to develop mice with human immune systems and other models and additional tests to be sure that the developed antibody can block the metabolic pathway, and to assess what the immune consequences will be in humans.

The TumAdoR project weaves together the skills of seven different teams from Germany, Switzerland, France, Finland and the UT Health Science Center to attack the problem from multiple perspectives such as immunology, drug development, and clinical trial design and management.

Its target is CD73, an enzyme that is overexpressed in many different kinds of cancer. CD73 helps produce excess amounts of adenosine, which is needed to produce energy in cells, but also can suppress the immune system and allow the tumor cells to reproduce.

Adenosine is not normally immune-suppressive, "but it is when you generate lots of it, as tumors do. Tumors do everything in a crazy way," Dr. Curiel said.

Antibody therapy is already a proven success -- one example is Herceptin, an antibody drug used to treat breast cancer -- but the promising thing about this project is that the drug may well work against several types of cancer.
Bin Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., a former CTRC researcher who developed critical CD73 data, now at Northwestern University, remains a part of the Curiel team collaborating on Project 6. Christophe Caux, PhD, at the Léon Bérard Cancer Center in Lyon, France is principal investigator.

The TumAdoR project receives funding from the European Union's 7th Research Framework Programme (FP7).

For current news from the UT Health Science Center, please visit our news release website or follow us on Twitter @uthscsa.

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC) at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is one of the elite academic cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Center, and is one of only four in Texas. A leader in developing new drugs to treat cancer, the CTRC Institute for Drug Development (IDD) conducts one of the largest oncology Phase I clinical drug programs in the world, and participates in development of cancer drugs approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. For more information, visit

University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

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