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Despite substantial gains in survival from human cancer, many patients ultimately die from resistant or relapsed disease. Most FDA-approved (or off-label existing) therapies are subject to a high failure rate. The urgency for cancer patients calls for a re-evaluation of the conventional structure of both academic research, biotechnology and large pharma approaches to the development of new drugs. Such approaches frequently tend to be non-integrated, un-insightful, slow, cumbersome, and fiscally unsound. Drug discovery for most diseases, including but not limited to cardiopulmonary, neurodegenerative, infectious, and metabolic disorders suffer from the same limitations.

The Division of Cancer Biology has a highly collaborative structure that enables each member to expand independent and collaborative research and development. Two particular challenges to drug development currently are (i) difficulty in the translation of laboratory-based discovery into clinically viable applications, and (ii) the inability to identify and transform medical problems into research questions. These factors separate bench research observations from clinical applications by an overly long lag time. Furthermore, several practical issues arise from the unique history of specific strategies for disease detection and therapy. Beyond conventional therapies based on strategies devised more than half a century ago, current approaches to drug development continue to rely on empirical models.

The overarching objectives of the Division of Cancer Biology are as follows:

  1. Discover the molecular mechanisms underlying human disease.
  2. Discover and develop new diagnostic, therapeutic, imaging, and prevention targets for human disease.
  3. Develop and rapidly evaluate promising new targeted agents in pre-clinical models.
  4. Translate novel agents to early phase human clinical trials, with UNM and industry partners.
  5. Elucidate mechanisms of action and resistance of novel agents.

With the goals outlined above, our Division will serve as a collaborative conduit to bring discoveries in basic biological sciences, generated from molecular pharmacology approaches and our research programs, to rapid preclinical and clinical evaluation. The majority of the members of this division will be engaged in laboratory-associated pre-clinical and translational investigations ranging from combinatorial drug discovery (i.e., through screening and selection of peptide, antibody, and chemical libraries), drug development, drug sensitivity and resistance, molecular biology of drug action, genetics, signal transduction, chemoprevention, transcriptional regulation, and vascular pharmacology. Genomics and proteomics platforms will be leveraged to develop new categories of diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic agents. All of the technologies above will be translated into first-in-human studies focused on cancer and then ultimately to other disease. These trials will be coordinated with the appropriate clinical departments on a case-by-case basis.


Renata Pasqualini, PhD
Professor & Chief Division of Cancer Biology