LSI building

Research investments bring potential cancer treatments one step closer

April 8, 2016

New investments are accelerating an innovative approach to discovering potential cancer treatments that was developed at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute.

Resonant Therapeutics, a Houston, Texas-based company, is sponsoring ongoing work in the lab of LSI faculty member Stephen J. Weiss, M.D., to develop and test cancer antibodies using a 3-D platform that replicates the native environment of cancer cells in the body. This unique model increases the likelihood that drugs that stop the growth of tumor cells in the lab will also stop cancer growth in patients.

The technique also allows potential cancer treatments to be discovered in a fraction of the time needed for more traditional methods. Findings from the approach were first published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2014.

Several novel therapeutic antibodies that target molecules involved in cancer metastasis have advanced through early-stage experiments and proven highly effective in blocking cancer metastasis in mouse models.

The Resonant-sponsored research is examining antibodies linked to ovarian cancer and one of the deadliest forms of breast cancer, known as triple-negative breast cancer. Antibodies found to display anti-cancer properties in the lab will then be tested in mouse models. And the most successful antibodies will be further investigated and tested, a key step toward human clinical trials.

The research was initially supported by the LSI’s Innovation Partnership, a program conceived of and designed by the LSI’s Leadership Council, which infuses promising projects with funding and expertise from leaders in the top ranks of business, venture capital, and the biomedical industry.

"This discovery by the Weiss lab was research that required non-traditional funding to transition their work out of the lab and on a path toward patients," says Roger Newton, Executive Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer of Esperion Therapeutics and member of the LSI Leadership Council. "Through the Innovation Partnership, the institute was able to conduct the experiments necessary to attract external support." 

Other partners from across the university were important players in moving the research forward.

For example, the project was the subject of a Ross School Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP). A group of MBA students from Ross created a business and commercialization plan as a model to help bring the antibodies to market. Based in part on their work, and with assistance from the U-M Office of Tech Transfer, a funding partner was ultimately identified, and a sponsored research agreement and licensing agreement was reached.

Additionally, in October, 2015, the Regents of the University of Michigan approved an investment by the university in Resonant under the MINTS (Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups) initiative, which was started by former U-M President Mary Sue Coleman primarily to invest in technologies that originated in faculty labs. Under MINTS, the university reaps the benefits of its initial investment when a company either is acquired or goes public.

“The platform continues to produce exciting possibilities across several types of cancer as well as yielding insights into the underlying biology of metastasis,” says Weiss, a professor of internal medicine and oncology at the U-M Medical School, and interim director of the LSI. “We’re extremely grateful that the LSI and U-M have innovative funding and support programs to help promising experimental ideas gain the traction they need to accelerate their development and potential for impact on human health.”