The Kansas University Cancer Center has joined a partnership that will seek to create new treatments for blood cancers.
The partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the National Institutes of Health will begin with an effort to take an existing arthritis drug, auranofin, and use clinical trials to see if it is effective as a treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.
On Wednesday, state, university and other officials praised the new collaboration.
Scott Weir, director of the KU Cancer Center’s Institute for Advancing Medical Innovation, said the KU Cancer Center is working on six existing drugs to see if they can be used as effective cancer treatments. Such drugs offer an expedited timeline to the marketplace because they have already received some clearances from the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Weir said that if all goes well in the clinical proof-of-concept trials for auranofin — the trials are expected to take 12 to 18 months — the drug would be licensed to an outside company, which would meet with the FDA to determine further requirements and specifications needed to take it to the marketplace.
The partnership allows each agency to leverage their strengths, Weir said:
• The NIH did the basic science that led to the discovery of auranofin’s potential as a cancer-fighting drug.
• The KU Cancer Center has extensive experience with drug development and discovery.
• The LLS will provide expertise in the blood cancer area and has active collaborations and connections in the pharmaceutical industry.
Funding for the project comes from the Kansas Bioscience Authority and the NIH, which both contributed $500,000 to the effort. LLS and KU added an additional $250,000 in philanthropic support.
“This is a perfect fit for our investment strategy,” said Brad Kemp, project director, Cancer Fighting Cures, for the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
The bulk of the collaborative work, he said, would be done in Kansas.
The NIH will also, on top of their direct funding, operate one of three clinical trials associated with the drug tests.
KU and LLS have collaborated before on clinical trials associated with a topical antifungal agent with cancer-fighting potential. That collaboration was so productive, said Louis DeGennaro, executive vice president and chief mission officer for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, that the two decided to collaborate again. The new partnership could reach beyond the current auranofin trial, he said.
“This can be a long-standing collaboration with multiple projects over an extended time period,” he said.