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Deep in the heart of Texas
October 2010
by Kimberley Sirk  |  Email the author
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HOUSTONóH. Ross Perot, a well-known Dallas businessman with a substantial philanthropic sensibility, recently pledged $20 million to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for research to give genesis to new and potentially novel targeted cancer therapies.

The funds will be divided equally between two relatively new initiatives at MD Anderson: the Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy (IPCT) and the Center for Targeted Therapy (CTT). These two interconnected areas will receive the funds over the next 10 years at the rate of $1 million per initiative per year.

According to Dr. John Mendelson, MD Anderson's president, Perot's commitment will serve to support efforts between the IPCT and the CTT to analyze genetic blueprints, pinpoint molecular biomarkers, develop targeted anticancer drugs and test new drugs in clinical trials.

"We are grateful to Ross Perot for his generous support in these extremely important areas of cancer research. With the completion of the mapping of the human genome, progress toward individualized cancer treatment has escalated, and now is a very exciting time to support the work being done in these areas," said Mendelsohn in a prepared statement. "These funds will enable our clinicians and researchers to advance the translation of science into new and improved cancer treatments. Ultimately, our goal is to make personalized cancer therapy the gold standard in oncology care."

Garth Powis, director of the CTT, explains that his group and the IPCT are not trying to compete with drug companies, but are working to "facilitate research to get discoveries to the clinic."

"As a state institution, we are inherently different than large companies," Powis explains. "We are defined by a different mission. We can investigate smaller, 'lesser' cancers, and come up with novel discoveries. We are both ends of the drug discovery pipeline. We have some advantages that industry does not."

The goals the two entities hope to realize from this funding are twofold: the first being to speed the rate of lead compounds into the clinic and bridge the gap from drug lead and the preclinical stage; and secondly, to make academia work in a better way than before.

"We have an early-stage drug discovery program, to get to lead compounds and a translational chemistry ignition program to get those first lead compounds made," says Powis. "This leads into a new agent development program, for which we hope to use the Perot money as leverage to obtain other funding."

The CTT is preparing to move into a new six-story building in February 2011.

The IPCT encompasses all of the clinical divisions and departments that participate in MD Anderson's highly successful, multidisciplinary care centers. Discoveries fostered by the IPCT will help physicians determine the specific genetic and molecular abnormalities in each patient's cancer and in turn prescribe the appropriate therapy. The IPCT is under the direction of Dr. Waun Ki Hong, head of the Division of Cancer Medicine, and co-director Sr. Stanley Hamilton, head of the Division of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

The IPCT is intended to accelerate the development of safer, more effective cancer therapies and plays a critical role in efforts to best match patients to the most effective treatments. It will foster discoveries that will enable physicians to determine the specific genetic, both germline and somatic, and molecular abnormalities in each patient's cancer and then prescribe the appropriate therapy.

The CTT, one of seven centers in the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer at MD Anderson, enables researchers and clinicians to coordinate all stages of the drug discovery and development process. Anchored by the institution's Department of Experimental Therapeutics, the CTT is designed to speed the delivery of new, more effective and less toxic targeted drug therapies from the research bench to the clinic so that patients may benefit more quickly from personalized cancer medicine. The CTT is under the direction of Powis, an internationally renowned cancer pharmacologist and a pioneer in the development of molecularly targeted cancer drugs. The CTT's mission, according to its website, begins with hypothesis- driven research that identifies and validates targets; continues with the discovery, development and design of biological therapies and drug agents; and is followed by preclinical and clinical trialsówith each step working toward the goal of personalized medicine.

Both entities are part of the largest medical center in the University System of Texas, which conducts $3 billion a year in business. They also have academic relationship with the university.

Perot, a native Texan who founded Electronic Data Systems in 1962 and Perot Systems in 1988, is a longtime supporter of MD Anderson. In 2004, he established the Norman Brinker Award for Research Excellence at the institution.

"I'm honored to be associated with the premier cancer center in the world and to help the outstanding physicians and scientists there take advantage of unprecedented opportunities to dramatically change the diagnosis and treatment of cancer," said Perot in a prepared statement. "Researchers at MD Anderson already have made great strides, but there is much more work to be done. I am proud to support their transformational research over the next decade and to play a small role in making personalized cancer therapy a reality. I can't think of a better potential return on investment."

Powis says the center and the institute are well positioned to take cancer research as well as personalized medicine to the next level.

"This grant is one of the largest we have received for pure research for drug discovery," says Powis, who did not participate in the negotiations to secure the Perot funds. "A lot of services I've set up in my five years here will allow us to enter the new age of drug discovery. This is where the Perot dollars will directly help. It's the largest focused gift."
 
 
Code: E101002

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