Local Company Developing Novel Compounds Against a Key Cancer Target
In July 2012, StemMed, a local company founded by Baylor College of Medicine faculty members Drs. David Tweardy (Department of Medicine), Michael Lewis (Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center) and former Baylor faculty member Jenny Chang (now with Houston Methodist Research Institute), executed an exclusive license agreement with the college to open the door for commercial development of a series of STAT3 inhibitor compounds. These compounds, developed in the Tweardy laboratory at Baylor, are directed against signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT) 3, a regulatory protein that is amplified in a wide variety of cancers, including breast, prostate, lung, head and neck, colon, liver and pancreas.
STAT3 plays a pivotal role in promoting growth and inhibiting apoptosis (programmed cell death) in these tumor cells, and therefore, the development of a compound that specifically and selectively inhibits STAT3 would be a welcome addition to the arsenal against cancer. Developing drugs that are specific to a protein like STAT3, which is a member of a multigene family, is not a trivial process, and the Tweardy lab employed a computational structural biology-based approach to attack the problem.
Their analysis revealed the existence of a binding site that facilitated the identification of compounds that specifically bind to and inhibit STAT3. StemMed is now coordinating the commercial development of the most promising class of compounds identified by the Tweardy team, and will shepherd the compounds in to the clinic. "The development of a specific and selective STAT3 inhibitor has been a long-term professional goal of mine, and the license of these compounds in to StemMed moves us one important step closer to getting them in to patients," said Dr. Tweardy.