Pacific University Professor Awarded $108,000 Grant for Pancreatic Cancer Therapy Research

Pacific University School of Pharmacy assistant professor Ashim Malhotra has received a grant of $108,000 from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation to conduct research to identify protein targets to effectively treat pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all cancers, with a five-year survival rate of just five percent. The difficulty in treating pancreatic cancer, Dr. Malhotra said, is due in part to its resilience to chemotherapy. A pharmacist and molecular pharmacologist, Malhotra trained in cardiology and pancreatic cancer at the New York University School of Medicine prior to his current appointment in pharmaceutical sciences at Pacific University.

Malhotra and his team will investigate the regulation of proteins, which when present in abundance in pancreatic cancer cells, prevent them from being killed by drugs. The team proposes to identify drugs that may be used to suppress these proteins in pancreatic cancer, overcoming this “chemoresistance.”

“With limited therapeutic options, advancing our understanding of chemoresistance may lead to significant breakthroughs in the treatment of a disease that kills more than 40,000 Americans annually,” Malhotra said. 

Pancreatic cancer is difficult to treat due to its complexity and the plethora of genetic defects associated with it. Additionally, chemoresistance and the absence of target-specific drugs make it clinically challenging to manage. Malhotra's proposed work will help identify pancreatic cancer-specific cellular protein targets, which may subsequently enable rational drugs design to target and suppress proteins that prevent cell death in response to drugs.

Specifically, Malhotra and his team propose to investigate whether some drugs that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in other unrelated diseases can be repurposed for use in pancreatic cancer.

“Repurposing drugs is a unique and novel mechanism for reducing the time and enormous costs associated with developing new drugs and in bringing a drug from the bench to the bedside,” he said.

The proposed work is expected to provide pre-clinical evidence for repurposing of drugs for use in pancreatic cancer treatment.

The Elsa U. Pardee Foundation was established in 1944 under the terms of the will of Mrs. Elsa U. Pardee, whose life was taken by cancer that year. Mrs. Pardee provided a $1 million trust fund "for the promotion of the control and cure of cancer." She directed that this bequest be used to support research in the field of cancer and to provide for others the advantages of new knowledge and techniques for the treatment of this related group of disabling and frequently lethal diseases. Since 1944, this family-run foundation has proudly granted over $125 million to support research programs directed toward discovering new approaches for cancer treatment and cure, and financial support for cancer treatment.

Pardee Foundation grants are highly sought after and typically awarded to such organizations as Mayo Clinic, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and UCLA.

Founded in 2006, Pacific University’s School of Pharmacy is located in Hillsboro as part of the university’s College of Health Professions and offers a three-year doctor of pharmacy degree program.

Friday, Dec. 18, 2015