Updated: UT Cancer Institute Focuses on Drug Research

Updated 2 p.m., 11/28/2011:

HOUSTON — The University of Texas is committing $75 million to kick-start the new Institute for Applied Cancer Science, which will focus on speeding up the discovery and delivery of effective cancer drugs at a time when pharmaceutical companies have scaled back research and development.

Gov. Rick Perry, taking a break from his busy pursuit of the GOP presidential nomination, was on hand for the announcement at the south campus of MD Anderson Cancer Center, site of the new facility, in Houston on Monday. Perry said the institute would help Texas cement its position as a leader in cancer research and scientific innovation.

“I believe this state represents a unique crossroads, a place where academic research can come together with a very vibrant private sector to tap into this steadily growing biosciences sector. We’re just scratching the surface of its potential,” Perry said. “We’re creating a culture that will help ensure that great ideas that are born in Texas will stay in Texas, from the laboratory to the marketplace, and then we will export them around the world.”

UT’s MD Anderson will spend a maximum of $15 million a year for five years to help fund the institute. Officials are also trying to raise $42 million in private donations over the same period, and they expect private pharmaceutical companies will contribute research dollars with the hope of investing in the latest cancer remedies..

Dr. Ronald DePinho, president of MD Anderson, led a similar but smaller effort at Harvard University. He said the institute will help fill a void in the cancer drug pipeline, caused by a pullback from pharmaceutical companies and the economic downturn.

“Since about 2003, large Pharma has systematically gutted its early stage research and development and has preserved its capital to fund late-stage clinical development and commercialization,” DePinho said.

He called the creation of the institute, in operation since Sept. 1 but formally announced Monday, a “dark day for cancer.”

The Texas center is taking both inspiration and leadership from Harvard’s Belfer Institute for Applied Cancer Science, part of the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. DePinho directed the Belfer institute and his wife, Dr. Lynda Chin, was its former scientific director. She will have the same role at the Texas institute.

Former Belfer deputy director Giulio Draetta is now director of the newly created Institute for Applied Cancer Science at MD Anderson.

Perry was introduced at the conference by his top UT appointee, Board of Regents Chairman Gene Powell, who called the governor a “great Texan, a great American.”

Perry, who has a full week ahead on the campaign trail, did not take any questions from reporters at the event. He is staging town-hall events this week in New Hampshire and has private fundraisers scheduled in California.

Original story:

HOUSTON — Hoping to get more effective cancer drugs into the hands of patients, state leaders announced the creation of a new cancer research institute in Houston this morning.

The Institute for Applied Cancer Science will focus on improving the “appallingly low rate of success in the nation’s current cancer drug development system,” said Ronald DePinho, president of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in a prepared statement.

“Only 5-10 percent of cancer drugs make it from initial discovery all the way to patients as approved treatments,” DePinho said. “Improving this unacceptable performance requires that we hit the reset button and … develop a clear clinical path for new therapies.”

The research facility will focus on converting basic discoveries into drugs and complementary diagnostics, said Raymond DuBois, MD Anderson's executive vice-president and provost.

Gov. Rick Perry's prepared remarks for the announcement focus on the scientific and economic value of the new institute at M.D. Anderson, one of the most respected cancer treatment centers in the nation.

It's a rare foray back into the state arena for Perry, who has been traveling extensively in pursuit of the Republican presidential nomination. Perry has public events planned this week in New Hampshire and is also expected to raise money for his campaign in California.

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