Queensland, Emory research alliance targets cancer treatments

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Nov. 6, 2013

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Holly Korschun
Emory University
404-727-3990
hkorsch@emory.edu

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The Queensland Emory Development Alliance is a 10-year partnership between The University of Queensland, the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Emory University.

A collaborative research project aimed at discovering a drug to treat a highly resistant form of breast cancer is one of two projects given the green light by the Queensland Emory Development (QED) Alliance.

The QED Alliance, established in December 2012, is a 10-year partnership between The University of Queensland, the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and Emory University to collaborate on new drugs and vaccines for treating cancer and infectious diseases.

The second research project will seek to advance potential new treatments for those suffering from chronic cancer pain.

The two projects were the first to be identified by the QED Alliance as having the best potential for developing drug and vaccine solutions.

The international selection process involved all three institutions, and each project was awarded $250,000 in funding. The Selection Committee included senior leadership, commercial professionals and subject matter experts.

"Emory's participation in this global partnership is an excellent example of our vision of working collaboratively for positive transformation in the world," says Emory President James Wagner.

"The joint efforts of these outstanding international researchers and entrepreneurs give us great hope that we will realize medical breakthroughs to address some of cancer's most challenging problems."

"The alliance was established to unite three institutions with complementary strengths to accelerate the transfer of research discoveries into consumer-ready medicines," says David Stephens, Vice President for Research in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center at Emory University.

"We are excited to be moving forward on these two promising projects to develop solutions for difficult cancer challenges."

Vice-Chancellor and President of The University of Queensland, Professor Peter Høj, said it was critical to collaborate with the world's best, given the scale, commonality and connectedness of many of the globe's challenges.

Professor Høj is currently on an Executive Mission in North America to further strengthen ties between The University of Queensland and US institutions.

"By bringing together outstanding researchers from these three institutions, we can reach an international level of engagement with industry and government that a single institution would struggle to achieve."

Other senior leaders include Professor Max Lu, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Queensland and Professor Frank Gannon, Director and CEO of QIMR Berghofer.

The breast cancer project brings together an international team of experts at the three collaborating institutions. Their expertise spans biochemistry and high-throughput screening (William Dynan and Haian Fu, Emory University); preclinical models of triple-negative breast cancer (Kum Kum Khanna, QIMR Berghofer) and medicinal chemistry and drug design (David Fairlie, UQ).

The work builds on recent collaborative work of Khanna and Fairlie, who have identified small molecules that regulate a DNA-binding protein associated with defective DNA repair.

"Professors Dynan and Fu are experts in DNA repair and chemical biology respectively, and can bring a different focus and different expertise to the project," Khanna says.

"This new international collaboration will now investigate how to block a cancer pathway responsible for poor prognosis in about 20 per cent of breast cancer patients who are given existing cancer therapies."

The chronic cancer pain relief project brings together an international team of experts determined to improve pain management outcomes. Maree Smith from UQ's Centre for Integrated Preclinical Drug Development says a lead compound with potential for development as a novel analgesic for the treatment of cancer-induced bone marrow pain has been identified in the laboratory.

"Our team is looking forward to working with our renowned colleagues at Emory University, Professor Dennis Liotta and Professor Mark Goodman, to synthesize additional related compounds," Smith says.

"We will also have the benefit of QIMR Berghofer's Professor Jeff Gorman's expertise as a biomarker discovery expert to help us discover potential new compounds to alleviate chronic cancer pain."

Walter J. Curran, MD, executive director of the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University, is traveling to Brisbane this month to further the relationship in cancer research among the collaborating partners. The partnership continues to grow and will include graduate student exchanges in the future.

In addition to funding the two projects, the QED alliance has also awarded ten travel bursaries to enable international collaboration to develop future collaborative projects:

$5,000 Level awards:

  • Martin Moore, Lead (Emory University), David Harrich (QIMR Berghofer), and Kirsten Spann (UQ): "Codon bias synthetic biology approach to develop live attenuated respiratory syncytial virus vaccines."
  • Andrew Jenkins (Emory University) and Joe Lynch (UQ): "High throughput assay for biomarkers of and therapeutics for neurological disease."
  • William Lewis, Co-Lead (Emory University), David Harrich, Co-Lead (QIMR Berghofer), Simon Phipps (UQ), and Andreas Suhrbier (QIMR Berghofer): "Novel therapy for chronic HIV: Effects on mitochondrial oxidative stress, aging and immune function."
  • Mehul Suthar, Lead (Emory University) and Rajiv Khanna (QIMR Berghofer): "Exploiting innate immune responses to design a prophylactic vaccine for human cytomegalovirus."
  • Xiadong Cheng, Lead (Emory University), George Muscat (UQ) and Jason Lee (QIMR): "Exploring epigenetic inhibition in cancer and metabolic diseases."
  • Wayne Wang, Lead (Emory University), David Paterson (UQ): "Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance Study"

$10,000 level awards:

  • Matt Cooper, Lead (UQ), David Weiss, (Emory University), David Reid (QIMR Berghofer): "Antibiotics Against Drug-Resistant Gram-Negative Bacteria"
  • Dennis Liotta, Lead (Emory University), Matt Cooper, (UQ), David Harrich (QIMR Berghofer), Paul Young: "Development of Antiviral compounds Targeting Dengue Virus"
  • Don McManus, Lead (QIMR Berghofer), Hong You (UQ), Istvan Toth (UQ), Francois Villinger (Emory University), Siddappa Byrareddy (Emory University): , "An Achilles' Heel Approach to Schistosome Vaccine Development"
  • Mark Walker, Lead (UQ), Istvan Toth (UQ), Peter Moyle (UQ), James McCarthy (QIMR Berghofer), Silvestri Guido (Emory University), David Weiss (Emory University), "Development and Immunological Evaluation of a Broadly-Protective Group A Streptococcal Vaccine, Incorporating Six Highly-Conserved Protective Antigens, in Non-Human Primates"