Desai Laboratory: letrozole as treatment for brain cancer

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Pankaj Desai, PhD. Photo by UC Academic Health Center Communication Services.

A drug designed to combat breast cancer might also prove effective in treating people with deadly brain tumors, according to researchers at the University of Cincinnati’s Winkle College of Pharmacy.

A study that began as the dissertation project of a doctoral candidate is so promising that the UC Intellectual Property office has filed a patent application, and the UC Technology Commercialization Accelerator has awarded a $40,000 incubator grant to a research team that is planning to conduct a clinical trial. Such funding is awarded for technologies that could result in startup companies.

“We have an early discovery with the tremendous potential to cure,” said Pankaj Desai, PhD, a professor of pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism at the Winkle College of Pharmacy and a collaborating member of the Brain Tumor Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute and UC Cancer Institute.

Nimita Dave began the study while working toward her PhD at the Winkle College of Pharmacy under Dr. Desai. She earned her doctorate in April and has continued her work with him as a postdoctoral fellow.

They are focusing on the compound letrozole, a drug administered orally to treat breast cancer.

Based on research involving tissue samples, such aromatase inhibitors could be “strikingly effective on brain tumors,” said Dr. Desai, who has more than 20 years of experience in developing oncology drugs.

“There is a desperate need for a breakthrough in the treatment of primary brain tumors as they have high rates of morbidity and mortality,” Dr. Desai said.

With additional funding, a clinical trial could start as early as next year. If it proves effective, the drug could go to market to treat malignant brain tumors such as gliomas in as few as two years because it involves the repurposing of an existing medicine, according to Dr. Desai, who directs the college’s master’s program in drug development.

Drs. Desai and Dave are working on the design of clinical trials with Dr. Lionel Chow of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as well as fellow neuro-oncologists Richard Curry, MD, and John Morris, MD, of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

— Katie Pence

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