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Innovation & Startups

Duquesne University lands major licensing agreement to develop promising cure for cancer

Research on two promising cancer-destroying drugs that may one day cure cancer moved forward this month with one of the largest licensing ventures in the history of Duquesne University.

Duquesne signed a licensing agreement with North-Carolina-based FLAG Therapeutics, an early stage oncology company, giving FLAG worldwide rights to two drugs developed by Dr. Aleem Gangjee, a cancer researcher and distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Gangjee has devoted his career to studying cancer killing compounds with a proven record of efficacy in late and early stages of the disease. He is internationally renowned for his research and received the prestigious American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists Award in Drug Discovery and Development Interface in 2012.

The drug compounds specifically target breast, ovarian and brain cancer; they work by simultaneously starving the blood supply to the tumor before they kill it. In addition, the drugs are selective to cancer cells, so they are not toxic to healthy cells and therefore have fewer side effects.

“My grandmother succumbed to breast cancer, so it became more of a personal reason,” says Gangjee, who studied organic chemistry at the University of Iowa and began his research during his post doctoral fellowship at SUNY Buffalo. “I wanted to understand why this disease is so baffling.”

Early on, Gangjee studied the problem of cancer's tendency to develop a resistance to drugs that proved effective in initially killing it. He began using a combination of several drugs in chemotherapy and found that the disease had a more difficult time resisting a combination of drugs.

In the 2000s, Gangjee and his team at Duquesne began developing single drugs with multiple attributes that targeted cancer cells. The fledging compound is now in the hands of FLAG, which will devote the next two to four years conducting research and going for FDA approvals. 

“We’re elated to have FLAG Therapeutics pick up the drug and develop it and take it to the next level,”  says Gangjee. “We hope it has all the promise we believe it will. To our knowledge there is nothing out there that comes close to what these compounds do.”
“We have worked toward this day for a long time,” he adds. “In research, there are a few troughs and a few crests. The crests make it all worthwhile.”  

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Aleem Gangjee, Duequesne University
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