$1.25 Million Gift from PharmaResearch Leads to Unexpected Discoveries in Cancer Therapeutics

Young Kwon

A $1.25 million gift from PharmaResearch may have surprised its recipient, Dr. Young Jik Kwon. What was even more unexpected? The result that occurred just a few years later: discovering a novel nano-formulation for cancer chemotherapeutics.

Kwon was first introduced to the Research and Development team at PharmaResearch through a mutual friend in 2015. 

“It was a completely organic connection,” said Kwon, who is a professor at UCI’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “I was interested in their work and curious to learn more, but research and funding wasn’t something I was actively pursuing with them at the time.”

Until then, PharmaResearch was focused on exploring DNA as biomaterials for cosmetic and pharmaceutical applications, mainly with the goal of advancing regenerative medicine.

“As I got to know the researchers at the company and the studies they conducted, I realized there was a potential to employ those same materials in cancer research and developing cancer therapeutics,” Kwon said.

In what came as a surprise to Kwon, PharmaResearch expressed commitment to this new research direction with a $1.25 million gift. A five-year research collaboration with UCI’s BioTherapeutics Engineering Laboratory (BioTEL), which is led by Kwon, quickly ensued.

Diligent efforts by five graduate students and three postdoctoral researchers at BioTEL over five years and funded through the collaboration resulted in a potentially effective, manufacturing-enabled nanoscale formulation of one of the most widely used cancer chemotherapeutics, based on the company’s DNA and BioTEL’s nanomedicine technology. The treatment showed promising results when tested on various cancer animal models.

Encouraged by the research findings, PharmaResearch struck a joint patent ownership and license agreement with the UCI for the formulation, with UCI Beall Applied Innovation’s Industry Sponsored Research team guiding the way.

PharmaResearch was eager to see the clinical translation of the formulation and committed to additional research funding to test the formulation on different cancer types.

One place with the capabilities necessary to test the therapeutic and pharmaceutical applications of the cancer technology came to mind: The Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Health Institute (NIH). Well-known for its highly reputed Assay Cascade characterization and testing program which only accepts the most promising cancer nanomedicine candidates, Kwon applied for this rare opportunity. 

The NCL announced in March 2021 that the cancer therapeutics nano-formulation developed by the team of Kwon and PharmaResearch was accepted into the program, and the first batch of the samples has recently landed at the NCL for testing.

“The relationship between BioTEL and PharmaResearch is an exemplary case of how a committed corporate partner and a dedicated research team can effectively work together for the advancement of innovative healthcare solutions,” said Robert Spitale, Founding Associate Dean of Research at the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “The research couldn’t have made it this far without the continued support from PharmaResearch.”

Kwon agrees: “It isn’t often that university researchers have an opportunity to fully immerse themselves in projects that focus on translational research. With PharmaResearch, I was extremely lucky to have a partner who believed in the value of a collaboration with a university research team and encouraged campus-based inventions.”  

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