News & Information
New Drug Latches Onto Tumors and Prompts the Immune System to Fight Cancer
Published: May 19, 2021
For years cancer immunologist Daniel Vallera studied diseases associated with bone marrow transplants in mice. “It was very interesting, but there was something missing,” says Vallera, who wanted to translate the scientific discoveries he made in the laboratory into real world applications. So, in 2012 he established the Targeted Toxins Laboratory at the University of Minnesota with the goal of designing FDA compliant immune therapies and anti-cancer drugs.
When Vallera learned that another scientist, Jeffrey Miller, was trying to find a way to stimulate the immune system to better fight cancer, the two started working as a team. Together, they designed a drug that both linked cancer-killing immune cells to tumor cells as well as stimulated a burst in the production of additional immune cells. Because the drug attached itself to the tumor, this build-up of new immune cells occurred at the cancer site, achieving a much more potent immune response than previous drugs that stimulated immune cells throughout the body. The drug was designed to target acute myeloid leukemia cells but it could also be customized to target other cancers.
Once designed, Vallera knew he wanted to make the drug available to cancer patients but he first needed funding to conduct animal studies to prove it was safe and effective. Funding he received from an NIH proof-of-concept grant from the University of Minnesota Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hub (MN-REACH) in 2016 helped his research team better understand their new drug and generate the data necessary to receive approval to test the drug in patients.
“REACH helped educate me so that I was able to decide that establishing my own company was something I didn't want to do at that time. It helped me to choose the right company.”