Moon Shots program is helping MD Anderson researchers use exosomes to target pancreatic cancer

from Houston Public Media by Carrie Feibel

MD Anderson launched “Moon Shots” in 2012 with the aim of speeding up the movement of basic discoveries from the laboratory to the actual cancer patient. This year, six new cancers have been chosen to receive the extra funding and high-tech assistance.

Academic medical institutions often struggle to “translate” basic research findings into actual drugs, devices and diagnostic tests, according to MD Anderson president Dr. Ron DePinho.

“In academia, we’re very good at discovering, but we’re less good at doing,” he said.

Many intermediate steps – known as “translational research” – are required to move promising ideas out of the laboratory and into clinical trials. They are frequently tedious and costly.

“The kinds of things that we’re doing, there are no grants we that can apply for,” DePinho explained. “There really is this blind spot with respect to funding.”

The “Moon Shots” program aims to fill that gap. Since the launch in 2012, MD Anderson has raised almost $300 million for the program. Eight cancers received initial grants.


Dr. Anirban Maitra, a pancreatic cancer researcher at MD Anderson, said support from the “Moon Shots” program is helping his lab find new treatments.

Dr. Anirban Maitra runs the pancreatic lab at MD Anderson. He said the support from Moon Shots is wonderful, because although pancreatic cancer is the most deadly cancer, it’s also pretty rare compared to lung or breast cancers.

“It allows us to really think of out-of–the-box ideas,” Maitra said. “Take chances on things that you wouldn’t normally do.”

One of those ideas is to block a mutant gene, Kras, found in more than 90 percent of pancreatic cancers. But to block that gene will require using exosomes, nanoparticles secreted by cells. Maitra believes exosomes could become a new kind of “biological delivery system.”

The Moon Shots program is helping Cancer Biology Chair Raghu Kalluri’s team work out the best methods for using exosomes to target Kras.

“For this delivery system, we’re funding GMP, or good manufacturing practices, of synthesis of this delivery system. (It) requires 17-20 tests that you need to do. So that when you go to the FDA with that fat folder and say ‘Here, we want to give this to patients,’ you need to show all of that data.”

Those manufacturing tests are an example of the translational research that Moon Shots was created to support, Maitra said.

“That’s the kind of stuff that is very hard for the NIH to fund because it’s not discovery or hypothesis-based science,” he said. “But it’s the stuff you need to do, if you want to not stop at the paper but actually take this to patients.”

President DePinho also emphasized this strict criteron: any research funded by Moon Shots must ultimately benefit patients and extend life.

Source – Houston Public Media


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