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BYU researchers discover, then find way to attack 'cancer driver' gene

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PROVO — A unique academic/industry partnership in Utah County is resulting in the development of a drug to treat certain cancer tumors.

"Cancer has impacted all of us," said Dr. Josh Andersen, head of BYU's Fritz B. Burns Cancer Research Laboratory. "It's impacted my family, so it's a personal mission."

Six years ago, Andersen discovered how the gene TNK1 mutates and becomes a cancer driver.

The research was just published in Nature Communications.

The next step was to develop a drug that treats tumors caused by TNK1.

"Targeted therapy should be precise," Andersen said in an interview with KSL-TV. "It should target the specific genetic mutation in the tumor, so ideally, that should spare the other tissues."

To start that process, Andersen reached out to Steve Warner at the Lehi office of SDP Oncology.

"We're a drug-discovery, drug-development company," said Warner, who is the senior vice president of SDP Oncology.

Andersen and Warner met and became friends as undergraduate students at BYU two decades ago.

Through the partnership and the sharing of research, scientists at SDP Oncology designed and refined a drug to treat TNK1.

"We don't want to treat everyone with this, just the ones that have that biology in their tumor," Warner said. "And what we would expect and what we've seen in our pre-clinical models is that if you have this protein, or this gene, as a driver, you have a very remarkable response to this drug."

For now, the drug is called TP-5801.

Andersen and Warner said the early results have been promising.

The drug is now ready for a phase 1 clinical trial — a rigorous process that takes years.

"This is one major step toward having a full arsenal of targeted therapies," Andersen said.


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