Penn State College of Medicine has been awarded a $1 million research grant from the PA Department of Health's CURE program, earmarked for the development of a cancer treatment with commercialization potential.
"Current cancer fighting drugs are limited by the inability of the medicine to get efficiently into the cancer cells, without affecting other normal growing cells," said Mark Kester, director of Penn State Center for NanoMedicine and Materials, and principal investigator of the study. "The next generation of cancer fighting agents are novel molecular-based drugs, therapies that target mutated genes, which are also severely limited by cell impermeability, toxicity and degradation. Nanotechnology offers the promise of enhancing the ability of cancer cells to accept these molecular-based medications by targeted delivery via nontoxic, nanosized packages."
Nanotechnology allows researchers to deliver sub-microscopic capsules of medication directly to cancer cells. Typically, the capsules are attracted to a specific protein that the cancer cells produce, preferentially targeting tumors while leaving healthy cells untouched.
Through their co-founded private company Keystone Nano, Kester and James Adair, the latter of the Penn State department of material sciences and engineering, have developed a NanoJacket particle which targets a gene mutation that causes overexpression of an oncogenic protein in breast cancer patients with poor outcomes. The NanoJacket delivers siRNA to the cancer cell. SiRNA is a segment of RNA that when delivered into a cell interferes with expression of a specific mutated gene, leading to cell death.
"One aspect of personalized medicine is identifying genetic mutations in individual cancer patients, as opposed to a 'one size fits all' approach," Kester said. "Nanotechnology enables the therapeutic targeting of these mutations with siRNA."
The $1 million grant will be used for preclinical trial work with the goal of submitting an Investigational New Drug application to the FDA to begin clinical trials. In particular, further study will be done on the best NanoJacket structure to work in the body and evaluation of medication doses. Preclinical trials in preparation of the FDA review will be conducted by Pennsylvania Contract Research Organizations.