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The Arizona Board of Regents gave approval for a University of Arizona (UA)
researcher to take on part ownership of the new Tucson company Cancer Prevention Pharmaceuticals (CPP). CPP's work may one day help prevent colon cancer in those at high risk for the disease.
UA Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy Eugene Gerner will run CPP with his colleague Frank L. Meyskens, Jr., Professor of Medicine and Director of the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of California in Irvine.
Gerner is a member of UA’s BIO5 Institute and the Arizona Cancer Center, where he is the lead investigator on the National Cancer Institute-funded Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) in gastrointestinal cancers grant.
CPP currently is conducting FDA approval trials on Eflornithine, a drug that—in combination with an existing one—has reduced the recurrence of colon polyps in earlier clinical trials by 70 percent, and has reduced the recurrence of the type of polyps most strongly associated with cancer by 92 percent. Colon polyps of all types are possible precursors to colon cancer. Gerner, who has been studying Eflornithine for more than two decades, is hopeful that the drug could be available in as little as three years.
While there are many cancer treatment drugs available, drugs for preventing the disease are still rare. "What we're trying to do is pretty unique," Gerner says. "Our mission is to bring drug-based prevention into the clinical management of patients at high risk for cancer."
That uniqueness initially presented a challenge. When Gerner and Meyskens tried to interest existing drug companies in Eflornithine, the companies were unwilling to take on the liability—and uncertain profits—associated with a prevention-based treatment. Gerner and Meyskens formed CPP instead, to assure that Eflornithine has a way of getting from the lab into the clinic.
Eflornithine disrupts the body's synthesis of polyamines, compounds which are associated with abnormal cell growth—and thus cancer—in adults. The drug would be combined with Sulindac, an already available non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) that also disrupts polyamine production—as well as fighting inflammation, which also is associated with cancer.