Purdue project to develop treatment for deadly brain cancer wins $398,000 in federal funding

It’s an aggressive form of cancer that kills an estimated 10,000 Americans every year. Victims include actress Elizabeth Taylor, composer George Gershwin and former U.S. Senator John McCain.

Now three Indiana institutions are teaming up to try to develop a treatment for glioblastoma, a lethal cancer that begins with the brain or spinal cord, and is difficult to treat, often requiring a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

The project won a one-year, $398,314 grant from the National Cancer Institute, according to a news release Thursday from Purdue University.

Monon Bioventures LLC, a privately held company that helps scientists navigate the early-stage challenges of translating their research into the clinic, was awarded the funding.

The other partners are the Purdue Research Foundation, the research arm of Purdue University; and Genezen, an Indianapolis-based contract development and manufacturing organization

The money is designed to help demonstrate the feasibility of manufacturing a glioblastoma therapeutic created at Purdue University College of Pharmacy.

“Glioblastoma is one of the most aggressive cancers of the central nervous system,” Sandro Matosevic, assistant professor in Purdue’s Department of Industrial and Physical Pharmacy, who developed the potential treatment, said in written remarks. “It grows, multiplies, is almost always lethal and there is no effective cure. New, effective therapies are desperately needed.”

Joe Trebley, president and CEO of Monon Bioventures, who holds a doctorate in medicinal chemistry from Purdue, said the federal funds of Matosevic’s work have the potential to bring hope to patients suffering from glioblastoma.

“His discovery provides a critical, preclinical proof of concept of the disease,” Trebley said in written remarks. “Our plans are to translate that discovery into the clinical by first working on the manufacturability of the novel therapeutic.”

Matosevic’s potential treatment uses human immune “natural killer” cells that can be armed to specifically attack glioblastomas. Unlike T cells, which are genetically engineered cells obtained from the patient, natural killer cells can be accepted from multiple donors. Matosevic said that makes them safer and expands the capability to manufacture them in large doses to treat many patients.

“They are also very efficient at killing glioblastoma cells,” he said.

Genezen will help modify the cells genetically and deliver them to the cells through the use of a tool called a viral vector.

After the grant-sponsored work is complete, Monon Bioventures plans to discuss with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the company’s plan to move the treatment to clinical studies, according to a release from Purdue University.

The Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization has applied for a patent on Matosevic’s discovery, and has granted Monon Bioventures the option to negotiate a license to the intellectual property. Monon Bioventures is housed in the Indiana Center for Biomedical Innovation.

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