Public Release: 

UTSA and UTHSCSA researchers awarded $1.9 million to discover novel breast cancer therapies

Professors Stanton McHardy and Rong Li will lead collaborative research team

University of Texas at San Antonio

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IMAGE: This is Stanton McHardy, associate professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery in The University of Texas at San Antonio College of Sciences. view more

Credit: Kris Rodriguez

Stanton McHardy, associate professor of chemistry and director of the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery (CIDD) in The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) College of Sciences, is partnering on a $1.9 million award to develop next-generation breast cancer treatment drugs. McHardy will collaborate with Rong Li, professor of molecular medicine in the Cancer Treatment Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA).

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women and annually about 40,000 women lose their battle. Nearly 233,000 new cases are diagnosed every year and one in eight women (12 percent) in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Currently there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.

McHardy and Li's research "Druggable Targets that Regulate the Antitumor Activity of ER-beta," is funded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and will support unique research in the discovery of novel breast cancer therapies. The researchers will study whether new small molecules can harness anti-tumor activity against breast cancers.

"This funding provides increased opportunities to foster collaborations in drug discovery research within multiple disciplines at UTSA and UTHSCSA. This has been an ongoing core mission for the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery," said McHardy. "This particular proposal is focused on the translational potential of cancer programs, bringing together a highly interactive multidisciplinary team that includes expertise in breast cancer biology, medicinal chemistry, drug discovery and development and clinical oncology."

McHardy says that preliminary data generated from a 2013 related pilot program provided substantial support for the CPRIT grant submission. McHardy and Li collaborated on the pilot program that focused on designing and synthesizing novel small molecules to help further establish the ER-beta pathway that Li was also studying.

Li's research will focus on two different receptors that drive estrogen activity, Estrogen Receptor alpha and Estrogen Receptor beta. While much more is known about ER-alpha, Li calls ER-beta the "Cinderella sister" because it is present in as many as half of all breast cancer cases. To date, the therapeutic potential of ER-beta has been largely untapped.

"It has a lot of similar characteristics, but in many cases it behaves in the opposite manner," said Li. "And in many cases - unlike ER-alpha - it inhibits tumor growth. The unique part of this work is that we've discovered how to turn on the ER-beta function, and how to inhibit the process that turns it off. This proposal seeks to analyze these three approaches that might maximize the anti-tumor activity of ER-beta."

CPRIT was established by Texas voters in 2007 to invest up to $3 billion for groundbreaking cancer research, prevention programs and services in Texas. The researchers hope to take steps in the laboratory that will allow them to take the small molecule drugs to clinical trials.

Other collaborators include Matthew Hart, Ph.D., the CIDD high-throughput screening director from the UT Health Science Center, Steven Weitman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute for Drug Development at the CTRC; John Kuhn, PharmD, professor of translational oncology at the UT College of Pharmacy and the UT Health Science Center and senior research director for the CTRC's Institute of Drug Development and Richard Elledge, M.D., CTRC oncologist.

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To learn more, visit the UTSA Center for Innovative Drug Discovery.

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About UTSA

The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) is an emerging Tier One research institution specializing in health, energy, security, sustainability, and human and social development. With nearly 29,000 students, it is the largest university in the San Antonio metropolitan region. UTSA advances knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. The university embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and world.

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