April 5, 2017
College of Pharmacy faculty earned $400,000 in funding from the Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery at the University of Michigan

This release was originally published by the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery at the University of Michigan has announced its first round of grant recipients, with $500,000 earmarked to undertake high-risk, high-reward initiatives with the potential to drive new advances in cancer research.

The intent is to fuel rapid development of innovative technology and new therapies, bringing better, more targeted treatments to the 1.6 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year.

“The greatest discoveries come from crossing the boundaries between the established disciplines,” says Forbes Institute director Max S. Wicha. “The Forbes Institute supports teams of investigators from across the University: the Engineering School, the College of Pharmacy, the School of Public Health, the Business School, the Law School, and the Medical School.”

Four grants were awarded to research teams, each of which represent multiple University of Michigan schools:

James Moon, PhD, John Gideon Searle Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, and Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering was awarded $200,000 for “Towards precision cancer immunotherapy.”

Moon and Anna Schwendeman, PhD, are developing a new cancer vaccine technology that can work in synergy with immune checkpoint inhibitors. They have produced ultra-small (~10 nm in diameter) nanodiscs to deliver anti-tumor vaccines. In preliminary studies in mice, the vaccine nanodiscs combined with immune checkpoint inhibitors eliminated tumors within 10 days of treatment in the majority of the mice. In this project, the researchers are now aiming to further develop the technology for personalized cancer vaccination.

"The idea is that these vaccine nanodiscs will trigger the immune system to fight the existing cancer cells in a personalized manner. The Forbes Institute will provide critical support for generating pre-clinical data that will examine this new idea and may promote bench to bedside clinical translation in personalized cancer immunotherapy,” Moon says.

Nouri Neamati, PhD, the John G. Searle Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the College of Pharmacy was awarded $200,000 for “Discovery of next-generation therapeutics through machine learning techniques.”

Identifying potential cancer targets is the early and perhaps most critical step in drug discovery. Neamati’s team built a database of over 20 million small compounds that is searchable in two- and three-dimensions. Using machine learning techniques coupled with intensive bioinformatics analysis they can match pairs of compounds with similar mechanism of actions.

“The Forbes Institute grant will enable us to expand the use of this turnkey technology and to pursue the preclinical development of a very promising compound for the treatment of pancreatic cancer identified in our laboratory,” says Neamati. 

The team includes Mats Ljungman, PhD, Duxin Sun, PhD, and Vaibhav Sahai, MD

The Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery was founded in June 2016 thanks to a generous $17.5 million gift from Sidney and Madeline Forbes of Bloomfield Hills, Mich. The center’s director is Max S. Wicha, M.D., Madeline and Sidney Forbes Professor of Oncology and director emeritus of the U-M Cancer Center.

Read the full release on the  University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center's news page.