North Texas Cancer Researchers and Institutions Reap $36M in CPRIT Grants

Southlake-based biotech OncoNano received the largest grant in DFW with $15.4 million from the state agency that funds cancer research in Texas.

CPRIT Cancer

Dallas-Fort Worth researchers and healthcare institutions were awarded more than $36 million in funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

CPRIT, a state agency funding cancer research in Texas, awarded 71 grants statewide totaling nearly $136 million, including 58 academic research awards, ten prevention awards, and three product development research awards.

Southlake-based biotech startup OncoNano Medicine received the largest local individual grant with $15.4 million through a Texas Company Product Development Research Award. It’s OncoNano’s second CPRIT grant, having received $6 million from the agency in 2016.

A spin-out from the UT Southwestern Medical Center with technology invented by Dr. Jinming Gao, professor of pharmacology and otolaryngology, and Dr. Baran D. Sumer, associate professor of otolaryngology, the two professors co-founded OncoNano in 2014.

OncoNano develops nanotechnology-enabled fluorescent probes to help cancer surgeons visualize tumors during surgery. The tech allows them to excise tumors more precisely. 

The fluorescent sensor targets different pH signals, making them glow so they are easier to distinguish from normal tissue. OncoNano is currently developing a new class of pH-activated compounds that digitalize and exploit the variability of pH in disease.

In July, we reported that OncoNano’s Series A funding had reached $35.4 million, and the company was entering Phase 2 trials of the intravenously administered compounds, which detect tumors and metastatic lymph nodes. The trials have been fast-tracked by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an expedited review.

CPRIT backs varied cancer research projects in North Texas

Other North Texas-based researchers and institutions received CPRIT grants:

A total of $7.9 million went to UT Southwestern researchers Kathryn O’Donnell, David McFadden, Daniel Siegwart, Elizabeth Goldsmith, Weibo Luo, Yunsun Nam, Tao Wang, and Ralf Kittler. O’Donnell received $1.99 million, McFadden received $1.2 million, and Kittler was awarded $200,000. Siegwart, Goldsmith, Luo, Nam, and Wang were awarded $900,000 each, according to CPRIT.

An award of $1.59 million went to University of Texas at Dallas researcher Baowei Fei for the development of a smart surgical microscope powered by AI technology. The tech helps doctors more precisely pinpoint cancer cells earlier, leading to improved diagnosis and treatment.

UT Southwestern’s Theodora Ross was awarded $295,453 to disseminate the genetic framework for hereditary cancers.

University of Texas at Arlington researcher Yaowu Hao received $198,039 for his work in eliminating glioblastoma, a malignant tumor that affects the brain or spine.

CPRIT awarded prevention grants of $999,998 to David Gerber of UT Southwestern for lung cancer screenings. Paul McGaha at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler received $1.95 million for expanded colorectal screenings in East Texas.

Grants will help recruit faculty to North Texas universities

UT Southwestern and UT Arlington received a combined $10 million for the recruitment of five faculty members. According to CPRIT, the universities will negotiate $2 million offers each with:

  • Piya Ghose, from Rockefeller University to UTA
  • Gerta Hoxhaj, from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to UT Southwestern
  • Benjamin Sabari, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology to UT Southwestern
  • Anju Sreelatha, retained at UT Southwestern
  • Jian Zhou, from Simons Foundation to UT Southwestern

UT Southwestern has received a significant amount of funding this year from CPRIT.

In May, CPRIT awarded UT Southwestern $14 million to attract leading researchers from Massachusetts, Illinois, and North Carolina. Then in March, CPRIT awarded more than $18.4 million to UT Southwestern for cancer research and faculty recruitment. UTSW at the time said it would use $8 million to recruit new faculty and $10 million to assist UT Southwestern researchers’ study of cancer on the cellular, molecular, and genetic levels.

CPRIT was founded in 2009. Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2007 to establish a $3 billion cancer-fighting fund. The agency is funded by bonds issued by the state of Texas.

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