Chemist aims to improve treatments for aggressive form of blood cancer

several beakers on a lab table

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has awarded a $200,000 High Impact/High Risk (HIHR) award to Texas A&M University chemist Kevin Burgess for his proposal, “Small Molecules to Perturb a Novel PPI Target for Chemotherapy.”

Burgess, an organic chemist and inaugural holder of the Rachal Chair in Chemistry since 2004, received one of 16 grants totaling nearly $3.2 million in the HIHR category, which funds projects expected to contribute major new insights and ideas into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancers.

He will apply his expertise to improve treatments for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer with a poor prognosis, particularly for older people. Most established drugs to treat AML are toxic. Burgess says there are emerging treatments that are far more tolerable because they are capable of directly targeting the actual cancer cells through their specific biochemical pathways, making these cells much more vulnerable to the drug than healthy ones. One such drug candidate in clinical trials, MLN4924, is unique because it targets a protein called NAE and renders it unable to bind to another protein called NEDD8.

“Clinical data for MLN4924 is extremely promising, but cell studies indicate some forms of AML could be resistant,” Burgess said. “Consequently, it is highly desirable to explore compounds with the potential to prevent NAE interacting with NEDD8 in a different way, and that is the focus of the work CPRIT has decided to support. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to explore this avenue of research.”

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