APRIL 18, 2023 — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) has granted $1.05 million to The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) for cancer research. Over the next three years, UTSA researchers will discover and develop new treatments for ovarian and breast cancers by developing and testing a class of naturally occurring, anti-cancer compounds called taccalonolides as a blueprint for success.
Taccalonolides are found naturally in Tacca chantrieri, commonly referred to as the black bat flower plant, a plant in the yam family. Doug E. Frantz, the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Distinguished Professor in Chemistry at UTSA, is the principal investigator for the award.
The assistant chair of the UTSA Department of Chemistry and director of the Voelcker Preclinical Pharmacology Core, Frantz has a proven track record of developing FDA-approved anti-cancer compounds.
He will collaborate with April Risinger, an associate professor and the Greehey Distinguished Chair in Targeted Molecular Therapeutics in the Department of Pharmacology at UT Health San Antonio. Together, using funds from this CPRIT grant, they will develop new potential therapies for ovarian and breast cancer that are predicted to cause approximately 57,000 deaths in 2023, according to the latest figures from the American Cancer Society. UTSA undergraduate and graduate students will also contribute to the research program.
While the taccalonolides are potent anti-cancer compounds on their own, their chemical structures are too complex to be developed into anti-cancer drugs directly. Frantz’s team, including Risinger, has made seminal discoveries using the template provided by nature in the taccalonolides, by simplifying and rationally designing similar chemical structures to the natural plant product. These discoveries hold promising potential as new cancer chemotherapeutics. Generous support from the Voelcker Fund has propelled their research programs and has allowed them to collaborate on high risk/high reward projects with the taccalonolides for cancer drug discovery.
“The behind-the-scene story about this CPRIT grant is how my work and collaboration with April Risinger is made possible by the Voelcker Fund and its creation of the UTSA Voelcker Preclinical Pharmacology Core facility that will be critical to the success of this project,” Frantz said.
Preclinical pharmacology is a critical piece of the drug discovery pipeline, allowing researchers to optimize potential new lead compounds into preclinical drug candidates by providing essential data needed to file an Investigative New Drug (IND) application to the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Researchers in the Voelcker Preclinical Pharmacology Core for Accelerated Drug Discovery, based at UTSA, collaborate with researchers in existing core facilities including high-throughput screening (HTS) and medicinal chemistry within the Center for Innovative Drug Discovery (CIDD), a joint venture between UTSA and UT Health San Antonio that Frantz co-founded in 2012.
CPRIT was created by the Texas Legislature and approved by voters in 2007 to lead the state’s fight against cancer. It currently has a $6 billion investment in cancer research and prevention.
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