Pharma Research Donates $1.5 Million to Support Kwon Lab’s Biomaterials Research in Cancer Therapeutics

Young Kwon

A $1.5 million gift to the University of California, Irvine from Pharma Research, Co., Ltd. will support the cancer therapeutics research in the lab of UCI School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Young Jik Kwon, Ph.D.

“This gift will allow my lab to explore answers with unconventional approaches rather than focusing on what’s rationally anticipated,” Kwon said. “We are thrilled to push the limits of our research in engineering biomaterials for efficient and safe cancer therapy.”

PharmaResearch Co., Ltd., a biopharmaceuticals company based in South Korea, was first introduced to Kwon in 2015.

Until then, Pharma Research 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 research and development team at the company and the investigations they conducted, I realized there was a potential to employ those same materials in cancer research and developing novel cancer therapeutics,” Kwon said.

Pharma Research expressed commitment to this new unrestricted, exploratory research direction with a $1.25 million gift in 2017. A five-year academia-industry relationship 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 resulted in an unexpectedly effective, manufacturing-enabled nanoscale formulation of one of the most widely used cancer chemotherapeutics, when BioTEL’s nanomedicine technology applied to the company’s proprietary materials. The treatment showed promising results when tested on various cancer animal models.

After forming a joint patent ownership and license agreement between Pharma Reseach and UCI for the formulation, Kwon earned acceptance into the highly reputed Assay Cascade characterization and testing program at the Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory (NCL) of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) at the National Health Institute (NIH).

“The immediate aim to develop a novel cancer chemotherapeutics formulation led us to licensing the technology that is currently in preparation for clinical studies,” Kwon said.

The original $1.25 million gift financially supported additional developments from the Kwon lab, including multi-modal gene therapy universally applicable to a broad range of cancers, nanoantibiotics to eradicate intracellular pathogens, and cell-free, cell-like therapies. The research into cell-free, cell-like therapies was also expanded into a novel COVID-19 vaccine platform in combination with the UCI’s CRAFT COVID-19 funding.

“We developed immune cell-derived vesicles that closely mimic the parent cell’s T cell simulation capability,” Kwon said, “but without safety, storage, and distribution concerns that we see in live cells.”

Now that Pharma Research is renewing its commitment with a new gift of $1.5 million, what are the goals for the Kwon lab through the gift’s funding period of five years?

“Many forms of emerging therapeutics suffer from limited manufacturing and technological versatility,” Kwon said. “We are developing new therapeutics that are not only innovative but also amenable to clinical translation and commercialization. Our aim is to deliver more breakthroughs that can benefit society!”

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