UCSF scientists win five UC Discovery Grants

Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco have received five prestigious UC Discovery Grants, including the largest ever awarded to a biomedical researcher in the program.

“The research universities of California are significant strengths on which the state can draw in rebuilding its economy,” said UCSF Executive Vice Chancellor Regis B. Kelly. “By linking the talents of UCSF investigators with the resources of private firms, we are building partnerships that will speed delivery of our discoveries into the marketplace and for the benefit of patients.”

UC Discovery Grants are designed to foster public and private sector collaboration on important scientific work. Proposals are competitively peer-reviewed, and grantees receive a combination of state and industry funding to pursue research projects on UC campuses.

In the largest UC Discovery Grant ever awarded for biomedical research, Frank McCormick, PhD, director of the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center and Cancer Research Institute, will receive $3.7 million over four years to refine a groundbreaking anti-cancer treatment called Onyx-015. McCormick and colleagues Michael Korn, MD, and Clodagh O’Shea, PhD, have pioneered the use of genetically altered viruses to target and destroy cancer cells.

Onyx-015, a mutated form of the common cold virus, is one of the most innovative attempts to create a cancer-killer of this type. The UC Discovery Grant will support McCormick’s efforts to develop molecular refinements to the therapy aimed at increasing its potency.

“It’s more important now than ever to have this support,” said McCormick. “Our clinical results have been great, but it’s very expensive to develop an entirely novel cancer treatment.” Private sector funds to support this project are provided by Onyx Pharmaceuticals. McCormick founded the company and now serves as a consultant.

UCSF Professor of Medicine John P. Kane, MD, PhD, will receive $1.8 million over two years to pursue development of a genetic test to predict heart disease. It is the leading cause of death in the US, yet traditional risk factors - such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure - actually account for less than half of the observed incidence of the disease. Many hidden causes of this epidemic are likely written into the genetic codes of patients. Kane and his colleagues already have identified gene variants, for instance, that predispose carriers to increased levels of dangerous blood lipids.

Using high-speed analysis of DNA samples from heart patients, the investigator plans to develop a tool that could permit clinicians to identify high-risk individuals even before they have symptoms, as well as to individualize treatments for patients who already are diagnosed. The DNA collection, called the Genomic Resource in Arteriosclerosis, was assembled by Kane’s group at UCSF’s Cardiovascular Research Institute. Private sector funds are provided by Celera Diagnostics.

Also receiving UC Discovery Grants:

· Matthias R. Wabl, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology, will receive $503,000 over two years to improve human immunoglobulin production in mice. Private sector funds are provided by Medarex, Inc.

· Gerard Evan, PhD, professor of cancer biology at the UCSF Cancer Research Institute, will receive $150,740 over one year to develop an improved animal model in which to test potential anti-cancer therapies.

· Bin Liu, PhD, assistant professor of anesthesia and perioperative care, will receive $166,160 over one year to develop monoclonal antibodies for potential use in cancer diagnosis. Private sector funds are provided by BioSource International.

UC Discovery Grants are administered by the Industry-University Cooperative Research Program of the UC Office of the President. Through use of research funds and tax credits, and by providing access to UC’s scientists and students, the program encourages California-based companies to pursue breakthrough research in UC laboratories.

Further information may be found at: http://www.ucdiscoverygrant.org.
At UCSF, the Office of Sponsored Research and the Office of Industry Partnerships support development of public and private sector research collaborations at the university. Companies seeking further information should call (415) 514-9620 or visit the UCSF Guide for Industry at: http://corporate.ucsf.edu/default.htm.