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Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery Sidebar Featured News,
Veronica Correa
April 9, 2020

Xiaodong Wang, Ph.D., has received a selective $2.5 million R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health to research and develop a new treatment for targeting tumor cells.

Wang is a research associate professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery (CICBDD). Her lab focuses on developing new drugs or drug leads for new molecular targets. A MERTK/FLT3 dual inhibitor MRX-2843 from her lab is in phase I clinical trial for patients with relapsed or refractory solid tumors.

The five-year grant will investigate cancer treatments for the dual-inhibitor targets MERTK and AXL. Douglas Graham, M.D., Ph.D. from Emory University is the lead PI, and the Dmitri Kireev lab at CICBDD will also be a main PI.

These two are regularly overexpressed in tumor cells, particularly lung cancer. Because both targets also have a role in suppressing an anti-tumor immune response and then contribute to further tumor growth, a dual-inhibition strategy would be more effective by providing anti-tumor action through both direct effects on cancer cells and modulation of the innate immune response, said Wang.

There are several small molecules in development that target MERTK and/or AXL. Wang said the lab has already identified an in vivo tool compound for research use. She plans to use a new computational method from the Kireev lab to develop and validate MERTK and AXL inhibitors.

Wang said that their research can have potential clinical applications, and even lead to the development of additional new drugs. She said it was exciting to get to conduct new work in this research field to be able to help patients.

“We really hope that we’re going to come out with a new preclinical candidate which will be ready to enter clinical trial after Investigational New Drug Application (IND) enabling,” she said.

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