Doug Frantz, the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Distinguished Professor in Chemistry at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has received a $200,000 grant from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to support his research with April Risinger, assistant professor of pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio, to create new cancer drugs from complex natural products that have proven to be enormously effective in fighting the most aggressive types of cancer.
"The cancer research underway by Dr. Frantz and Dr. Risinger is a wonderful example of how UTSA and UT Health are collaborating to build a knowledge economy in San Antonio," said George Perry, Semmes Foundation Distinguished University Chair in Neurobiology and dean of the UTSA College of Sciences. "This is what being an urban-serving university is all about. We have incredible researchers right here in San Antonio tackling one of the world's greatest health challenges."
Risinger, whose laboratory is focused on the discovery and preclinical development of novel natural products that have anticancer potential, approached Frantz to share her research and the idea that cancer drugs could be developed from a class of natural products called the taccalonolides. She has found that the natural products in this group have a remarkable ability to kill cancer cells, including some of the most aggressive such as drug-resistant triple-negative breast cancer cells.
"The natural products produced by these plants are too structurally complex to recreate and manufacture as drugs as is," Frantz said. "It would be a herculean effort to attempt it. We knew we needed a more innovative, simple solution."
Frantz and Risinger will use the CPRIT funding to discover which aspect of the taccalonolides make them so effective against cancer. Essentially, he's searching for the active portion of the compound so that small part can be recreated and turned into a drug, rather than utilizing the entire natural product itself, which cannot be mass-produced at this stage.
"These plants developed molecules for some other purpose. They don't care about breast cancer," Frantz said. "For us, it's another new opportunity to tackle cancer, especially advanced-stage cancers."
Frantz noted that fighting cancer has become increasingly difficult in recent years, because the disease is evolving to a point that current cancer treatments are no longer as effective as they once were.
"We have to continue to evolve our drugs to overcome that resistance," he said.