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VOL. 127 | NO. 96 | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

UTHSC Prof. Earns $1.5M Research Grant

By Aisling Maki

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Dr. Gabor Tigyi of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health, for research to develop a new class of drugs that could control the spread of cancers by inhibiting a key enzyme involved in metastasis.

Dr. Gabor Tigyi of UTHSC has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute, a subsidiary of the National Institutes of Health.

(Daily News File Photo)

NIH, the nation’s primary federal health agency for biomedical research, conducts and supports basic, clinical and translational medical research, and investigates the causes, treatments and cures for both common and rare diseases.

Tigyi is the Harriet S. Van Vleet Chair in Oncology Research and professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at UTHSC.

The award will fund his ongoing cancer study titled, “Anticancer Strategies Targeting the Autotaxin-LPA Receptor Axis,” which will be conducted over a five-year period.

The research undertaken by Tigyi and his team centers on developing a new class of drugs to control the spread of cancers by inhibiting autotaxin, a key enzyme involved in metastasis.

The project grew out of a decade-long collaboration between Tigyi’s laboratory in the Department of Physiology at UTHSC College of Medicine and the laboratories of Dr. Duane D. Miller, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at UTHSC College of Pharmacy, and Dr. Abby L. Parrill, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Memphis.

Including this grant, this project has received 15 years of funding. A significant outcome of the project has been a promising drug candidate called Rx100, a potent drug that may protect against the potentially lethal effects of unintended radiation exposure, such as a nuclear power plant explosion.

The compound, a subcutaneous injection that can be self-administered up to 72 hours after exposure to radiation, has a long shelf life and can be administered to individuals of all ages, including infants and the elderly.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, preliminary data suggest that the small molecule “can protect or mitigate injury and improve survival if administered up to 72 hours after deadly whole-body radiation exposure.”

The drug has entered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory pipeline. It could be the first such drug approved by the FDA.

UTHSC has licensed Rx100 to RxBio Inc., a biopharmaceutical company formed around technology developed at UTHSC.

About 10 years ago, several faculty members believed they had made a significant discovery: a viable compound that protects cells from damage after radiation exposure. As a result, several of the inventors decided to form RxBio Inc. to further develop their intellectual property.

The compound Rx100 has received funding from the Department of Defense and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in excess of $25 million for development for use against higher levels of radiation that affect the gastrointestinal tract.

BARDA provides an integrated, systematic approach to the development and purchase of vaccines, drugs, therapies and diagnostic tools for public health medical emergencies.

Further development of the Rx100 will rely heavily on use of facilities located within UTHSC, including its Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, a specially constructed facility dedicated to biomedical and biodefense research.

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