2019 Grantee: Eric Collisson, MD
University of California, San Francisco
Co-Principal Investigator: Adam Renslo, PhD
Research Project: Targeting Pancreatic Cancer Through Iron Dependent Drug Activation
Award: 2019 Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Translational Research Grant
Award Period: July 1, 2019 – June 30, 2021
Dr. Collisson is an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), and a practicing medical oncologist with a specific interest in the genomics of cancer. Dr. Collisson was the previous recipient of the 2012 PanCAN Career Development Award, funded in memory of Skip Viragh. He is also a member of the organization’s Scientific and Medical Advisory Board. He will lead this project with co-investigator and colleague, Dr. Adam Renslo.
Dr. Renslo is a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF. His research interests center around the discovery, optimization and pharmacological study of small molecules to understand the biology of disease and to produce more effective therapeutics.
Most pancreatic cancer patients have mutations in the KRAS protein. Mutant KRAS, considered to be the driving force behind the disease, turns on many other proteins, including MEK.
While treatments to block mutant KRAS have been unsuccessful, research shows that blocking MEK makes pancreatic cancer cells more reliant on autophagy. Autophagy is one of the critical ways pancreatic cancer cells get nutrients to survive. And, it can be blocked by drugs available today. As such, combination treatments that block autophagy and related proteins, like MEK, may hold promise for pancreatic cancer patients.
Dr. Collisson and team have developed a new drug to block MEK that, according to preliminary results, may increase potency while being less toxic. This new drug does not become active until it’s turned on by an abnormal iron, which is also activated by the KRAS pathway. By activating the drug, the KRAS pathway ends up blocking itself.
With this new drug, the team aims to enhance this very exciting potential treatment combination for pancreatic cancer patients.