Through the use of resources unique to the University of Illinois, the “Anticancer Discovery from Pets to People” theme is taking a novel approach to the elucidation of new anticancer targets and the discovery of candidate anticancer drugs. Our work is tremendously enabled by comparative tumor oncology and genomics through the inclusion of companion animals (dogs and cats) with cancer.
The past several decades have witnessed remarkable advances in the genetic understanding of human cancers; however, cancer remains a major killer, accounting for nearly 1 in 4 deaths in the U.S. Logic suggests (and history shows) that dramatic breakthroughs in cancer therapy come from new drugs that hit novel targets. The ACPP theme leverages combinations of resources that are unique to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, including strengths in drug discovery, veterinary medicine, and computational comparative oncology. The Theme employs modern genomic information and techniques to identify novel cancer targets, uses new screening platforms to find small molecules that hit these targets, and advances these compounds through complex in vivo settings. Compounds discovered can be used as probes for these targets, and can be advanced as therapeutics. These efforts lead to breakthrough discoveries in the development of novel cancer drugs: compounds that hit new targets, have a higher likelihood of success when advanced into human clinical trials, and that can be identified and developed at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods. One example of this is our discovery of the procaspase-3 activator PAC-1. PAC-1 has been used to treat over 50 pet dogs with cancer, and this work has enabled its rapid translation to humans; PAC-1 is now being taken by human cancer patients in a phase I clinical trial (https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02355535).