Marc Cox, Ph.D., associate professor in The University of Texas at El Paso's Department of Biological Sciences, has been selected as the 2016 Texas Inventor of the Year for his treatments for breast and prostate cancer developed at UTEP.
Cox was chosen as the top inventor in Texas by the Intellectual Property Committee of the State Bar of Texas, who selected the researcher from a highly competitive field of nominees. He is the first awardee from a university and will be recognized at the Annual Meeting of the State Bar of Texas in Fort Worth on June 17, 2016.
Prostate and breast cancer growth is frequently driven in response to the body's own hormones. As a result, many current therapies include hormone-blocking agents. However, a significant number of cancers develop the ability to grow even in the absence of hormones because their hormone sensors become stuck in an "on" state that normally only occurs in response to hormones, making them resistant to hormone blocking treatments. Such treatment-resistant cancers account for a significant proportion of prostate cancer deaths and also lead to many breast cancer deaths.
"Dr. Cox's research has resulted in an entirely new class of drugs that bypasses the hormone sensors all together and instead block internal messages within cancer cells, so the cancer acts as if its hormone sensors are 'off' and does not grow. Without a constant message to grow, the cancer may die partially on its own or become much easier to kill with combination treatment," said Michelle Lecointe, chair of last year's Inventor of the Year committee.
"I am both excited and honored to have been named the 2016 Inventor of the Year," Cox said. "As a scientist, nothing would satisfy me more than to see my work directly contribute to increasing patient quality of life, and my efforts in technology development and commercialization are necessary steps towards that ultimate goal. Recognitions such as this provide strong validation of my technology development efforts, and of the great strides that UTEP has made toward fostering and supporting highly competitive research."
Cox developed drug candidates that target a critical protein for androgen receptor signaling, which is a process that these cancers are dependent on for growth. Pharmaceutical compounds developed by Cox will help pave the way for the development of similar technologies that have less undesirable side effects than current treatments, thereby improving the quality of life of patients.
Preliminary findings suggest that Cox's therapeutic strategy will lead to more potent and effective drugs. These drugs will likely demonstrate efficacy toward the treatment of breast and prostate cancers, either alone or in combination with existing therapeutics.
"Dr. Cox is adding new weapons to the clinicians' arsenal of treatments that will provide greater options for the design of individualized and/or combination therapies, and significantly contribute to the reduction of death from prostate or breast cancer," said Roberto Osegueda, Ph.D., vice president for research at UTEP.
Cox is currently working with scientists from the National Institutes of Health, Texas Southern University, Clark Atlanta University and the University of Colorado to conduct pre-clinical studies, and is in discussion with collaborators to design the initial clinical testing of the compounds.
Novel technologies and new goods are at the heart of economic progress and the major long-term economic benefits of novel drug technologies include increased longevity of patients, reduced limitations on patient activities including working, and reduced medical expenditures.
Six patents related to Cox's breast and prostate cancer treatments are currently pending and issued.
"These novel drug technologies and their development toward commercialization attract funding that benefits the University, the University of Texas System and the regional economy through increased research expenditures and the creation of jobs," said Melissa Silverstein, director of UTEP's Office of Technology Commercialization.
To date, these technologies have attracted close to $2.3 million in research funding and created at least five new jobs within the academic research sector in Cox's lab at UTEP.