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Grant focuses on bringing new technology to pancreatic cancer

Phoenix, AZ, October 20, 2005-The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) has been awarded a five-year $15 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to lead a group of research centers in the discovery and development of new therapies for patients with pancreatic cancer.

This federally funded multi-center program project grant is the first of its kind that focuses exclusively on pancreatic cancer. The grant funds three projects with the key theme of accelerating the delivery of new treatments for patients with pancreatic cancer, one new compound for each year of the grant. Dr. Daniel D. Von Hoff will serve as the principal investigator for the study.

"Our goal is to develop one successful candidate molecule for each year of the grant that can be offered to patients in order to turn the tables on pancreatic cancer," said Dr. Von Hoff, Director of TGen's Translational Drug Development Division and the grant's principal investigator. "Our approach is unique in that it focuses on the development of innovative translational ways to tackle the disease."

With a 96% mortality rate, pancreatic cancer is the deadliest of all cancers. Approximately 35,000 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year and 31,800 people will die. Pancreatic cancer does not discriminate by age, gender, or race, and only 24 percent of patients will survive beyond one year. The five-year survival rate is 4 percent. Despite the especially lethal nature of pancreatic cancer, no effective early detection methods have been developed, and there are very few effective treatment options available to patients. At this time, the average life expectancy after diagnosis with metastatic disease is just 3 to 6 months.

In addition to TGen, collaborators on the grant include the Arizona Cancer Center at the University of Arizona and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Together, this multidisciplinary group combines their strength in drug development and the clinical care of patients with new molecular targets and new genomic technologies to bring renewed hope and innovative therapies to patients with pancreatic cancer.

"The time to do this innovative research project is now. The assembled group of investigators with experience at both the lab bench and the patients' bedside are uniquely positioned to develop new therapies and diagnostics for this devastating disease," said Dr. Jeffrey Trent, TGen's President and Scientific Director.

The grant funds three translational research projects designed to accelerate the development of new drugs for this devastating disease.

The first project focuses on the environment in which the tumor grows. Investigators know that pancreatic cancer tumors grow in a low oxygen environment. Dr. Garth Powis of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is leading a team whose goal is to test drugs in the clinic that will alter the micro-environment around a tumor in order to prevent the tumor from growing.

"For the first time we have the necessary technology, the infrastructure and the people to really make an impact on discovering new molecules against pancreatic cancer," said Dr. Powis. "We have exciting new drugs and we are starting right away to test them in patients with pancreatic cancer."

The second project, headed up by TGen's Dr. Haiyong Han and Dr. Von Hoff, leverages the knowledge that pancreatic cancer tumor cells have deletions in their DNA. Together with their team, Dr. Han and Dr. Von Hoff will identify potential candidate drugs that selectively kill tumor cells that contain the deletions.

The third project, led by Dr. Trent and Dr. Spyro Mousses, Director of TGen's Cancer Drug Development Laboratory (CDDL), uses genetic manipulation to make pancreatic cancer tumor cells more sensitive to drugs by applying a sophisticated technology called siRNA. The siRNA technology allows researchers to figure out what in a tumor's DNA can be used as an "Achilles Heel" to make drugs work more effectively. Identifying these key points of vulnerability may also lead to new targets, thereby giving researchers an earlier way to detect the disease.

The grant is supported by four highly-integrated shared services, including a tissue and blood bank, a computational center which will facilitates information sharing and data analysis, an administrative team, and a drug development strategy to accelerate safety testing and speed the movement of potential drugs from the laboratory to the clinic.

"The core services provide the infrastructure support needed to make each project a success. By focusing on drug development and safety testing, we can get these candidate molecules to the patients faster," said the Arizona Cancer Center's Dr. Robert Dorr.

Pancreatic Cancer National Advisory Committee
The announcement of the grant coincides with today's inaugural meeting of the National Pancreatic Cancer Committee, the first of the TGen Foundation's National Advisory Councils chaired by U.S. Senator John McCain. The National Pancreatic Cancer Committee is chaired by pancreatic cancer survivor Howard Young of Atlanta, GA, and is under the scientific leadership of TGen's Dr. Von Hoff, who spoke at the meeting.

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About TGen
The mission of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is to make and translate genomic discoveries into advances in human health. Translational genomics research is a relatively new field employing innovative advances arising from the Human Genome Project and applying them to the development of diagnostics, prognostics and therapies for cancer, neurological disorders, diabetes and other complex diseases. TGen is focused on personalized medicine and plans to accomplish its goals through robust and disease-focused research.

Media Contact: Amy Erickson-TGen (602) 343-8522


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