Training future leaders in cancer therapeutics R&D

New multi-institutional program aims to develop scientists well-versed in translating discoveries in the lab to therapies for cancer patients
June 23, 2021

New cancer research discoveries make headlines almost weekly, telling a promising future in the realm of cancer care. But translating these basic research discoveries into therapies for patients is a complicated process, one that many scientists are not fully equipped to navigate. In an effort to bring more cancer therapies to the market and provide more treatment options for cancer patients, Texas A&M University has launched a new multi-institutional Cancer Therapeutic Training Program (CTTP) that will prepare young scientists to navigate the pipeline from discovery to commercialization.

The new program, funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), is led by Texas A&M Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) in collaboration with the Gulf Coast Consortia Innovative Drug Discovery and Development Consortium, the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston (UTHealth), Texas Southern University and Baylor College of Medicine. It will provide post-doctoral trainees with an introduction to the fundamentals of drug discovery and development research, research technologies, professional networking opportunities and career development activities.  The program is being developed by a team of scientists led by Peter Davies, MD, PhD, from the Texas A&M Health Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT), that includes Wenshe Ray Liu, PhD, from the Department of Chemistry and the IBT, Suzanne Tomlinson, PhD, MBA, from the Gulf Coast Consortia, and Zhiqiang An, PhD, from the Texas Therapeutics Institute at UTHealth.

“The program will provide scientists interested in careers in both academic and commercial therapeutics research with an understanding of the overall process of how drugs and therapeutics are made,” Davies said. “CPRIT’s investment not only supports cancer research and science commercialization, but also the training of the next generation of cancer researchers. We’re delighted that Texas A&M is recognized as a leader in this field of research and training.”

Because cancer therapeutics span a wide range—including not only traditional small molecule drug therapies but also antibody therapeutics and cell-based therapies—the CTTP team includes scientists who are experts in each of these areas. Different skill sets, resources and capabilities are also required at each step of taking a scientific discovery to a product that is given to patients. The CTTP is designed to familiarize trainees with this pipeline and includes experts at each stage of the process. That complexity makes multi-institutional collaboration a key part of this program, Davies said.

The program will provide training for qualified applicants from any of the participating institutions. CPRIT-funded fellowships will be awarded to eight trainees each year from Texas A&M, UTHealth, Texas Southern University and Baylor College of Medicine who will engage in a research training program, instructional curriculum and a career development program.

The research training program involves supervised training in the practical aspects of cancer drug development and discovery. It includes mentored research projects and rotations in the partnering CPRIT-funded core laboratories. The instructional curriculum will provide foundational knowledge on cancer therapeutics, drug discovery and development, and therapeutic commercialization. Finally, the career development program will provide trainees with information, experience and professional skills training through a series of roundtables, workshops and networking opportunities that will familiarize them with the full range of career opportunities available within the field of cancer therapeutics research and development (R&D).

A blend of face-to-face and distance learning will allow the program to engage trainees at different campuses involved in the program. Additionally, all trainees will participate in a new workshop on health disparities and health inequities in biomedical research being developed in collaboration with Texas Southern University through its NIH-funded Center for Biomedical and Minority Health Research. This new program, entitled Diversity, Disparities, and Community Engagement in Biomedical Research, will serve as the cornerstone of the CTTP’s commitment to expanding diversity and inclusiveness in all aspects of its training activities.

“Our goal is to educate our fellows about the impact of health disparities and health inequities on our underrepresented minority communities and the relevance of these disparities to the research that we engage in,” Tomlinson said. “The workshop will introduce CTTP trainees to strategies for engaging underrepresented minority communities in biomedical research and in ways to promote trust in the benefits of clinical research and participation in clinical trials.”

The CTTP’s first event, to be held in August, will be a two-week crash course on the fundamentals of drug discovery and development, biotechnology and entrepreneurship. It will be an intensive introduction that will provide all new trainees with a knowledge base about the core fundamentals of therapeutics R&D.

“We hope to use this program as a steppingstone to develop additional post-doctoral training programs in therapeutics and drug discovery,” Davies said. “This first program is focused on cancer therapeutics but there are other areas of disease—neurologic disease, infectious disease, cardiovascular disease—where there are opportunities to develop very similar types of training programs that can build the overall capacity of the university to train the next generation of leaders of both academic and commercial therapeutics research and development.”

Lindsey Hendrix VR Publisher

— Lindsey Hendrix

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