In 2015, Executive Director, Laura Rutledge, was introduced to a promising lipid nanoparticle that could be utilized as a potential drug delivery that targets cancer cell. RCF sponsored research to develop novel drugs to be carried by the nanoparticle to target Ewing sarcoma. Dr. Andras Lacko, at University of North Texas Health Science Center, conducted the early stage research. Laura then introduced a colleague, Jim Graham, CEO of Qana Therapeutics, who is experienced in moving new therapies into clinical trials and FDA approval to further advance the work.
RCF also brought some of the brightest pediatric researchers together to move this project forward. Dr. Jason Yustein MD, PhD, formally head of the Faris D. Virani Ewing Sarcoma Center at Baylor College of Medicine. Yustein is now Director of Research for the Solid Tumor Team at the AFLAC Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Also on the team is Greg Aune, MD PhD at UT Health, Greehey Pediatric Cancer Research Institute. Dr. Aune focuses on the long term toxicity (especially the heart) of the currently used chemotherapies and radiation.
The team has proven that the nanoparticle delivery is targeted to cancer cells that have SRB1 receptors, a common marker in many cancer cells. Once the pre-clinical work with the novel drug and nanoparticle shows efficacy and less toxicity, the plan is to move it into patient clinical trials.
With the help of RCF funding, Qana Therapeutics has opened a lab in Austin at the ACC Bioscience Incubator(ABI). Additionally, Qana has hired a full-time Senior Scientist, Dr. Christian Boada, to develop and optimize multiple drugs in combination with the nanoparticle, to treat cancer with a targeted and personalized approach, with far less toxicity. Qana is currently developing a novel anthracyline.
“This grant from RCF has allowed us to accelerate our efforts to develop better treatments for patients with sarcomas and other solid tumor cancers,” replied Jim Graham, co-founder and CEO of Qana Therapeutics.
RCF, in collaboration with two other foundations, Little Warrior and William J. Riley Foundation, have awarded a grant to develop an mRNA vaccine for Ewing sarcoma. This landmark effort is driven by Dr. Timothy Chan, head of the Cleveland Clinic Immunology Department. Dr. Chan has identified a number of Ewing antigens that are highly sensitive to immunotherapy. He will use these findings to develop a vaccine that can identify Ewing cancer cells and boost the immune system to eradicate them. Other potential therapies such as CarT cell therapy are also being considered.