IU Cancer Center awarded grant to train next generation of cancer drug discovery researchers

The Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center was awarded a prestigious grant to train the next generation of cancer drug discovery and development researchers.

Known as a T32 grant, the five-year, $794,000 National Cancer Institute award will establish the Pediatric and Adult Translational Cancer Drug Discovery and Development Training Program (PACT-D3). The award supports three graduate fellows annually, with the cancer center adding to the grant to support an additional two students.

This training program builds on the cancer center’s expertise and drug discovery efforts while uniquely addressing both pediatric and adult cancers.”

Mark R. Kelley, PhD, the Betty and Earl Herr Professor of Pediatric Oncology Research at IU School of Medicine and the associate director of basic science research at the cancer center

Kelley is the co-principal investigator on the grant, along with co-principal investigator D. Wade Clapp, MD, professor of pediatrics and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine. Both Kelley and Clapp have been part of drug discovery efforts that led to clinical trials.

The PACT-D3 will allow graduate fellows to have a cancer center mentor who is conducting research in drug discovery and development while learning about potential career paths in academic, biotech and pharma settings. Fellows will be paired with an investigator whose lab focuses on pediatric cancers, adult cancers or overlapping efforts.

“The PACT-D3 program will provide students with an in-depth understanding of what it takes to take a drug from the lab bench all the way to commercialization,” Kelley said. “There are a lot of additional opportunities to do cancer drug discovery and development in large pharma, biotech, as well as patent law and licensing. Our job is to train students who will contribute to society in the discovery and development of new cancer treatments.”

Fellows will also have access to learning opportunities through the Cancer Drug Discovery and Development Accelerator (CD3A), which was launched by the cancer center in 2019. This initiative accelerates the journey from research to the clinic by fostering collaborations between university researchers, experienced pharmaceutical industry veterans, technology cores, and external research organizations. CD3A is co-led by Kelley and Chafiq Hamdouchi, PhD, senior research professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at IU School of Medicine, and cancer center researcher.

Kelley said that understanding the drug discovery process and how to partner with biotech and industry is critical.

“We want to make sure our students have the language to be able to talk to those other potential partners as they move their drug along,” Kelley said. “We know the success rate for getting new cancer drugs to market is low, so we’re trying to de-risk that by ensuring we have a good process and well-trained and prepared students.”

Part of the cancer center’s robust education and training opportunities, the PACT-D3 program is available to IU School of Medicine PhD students or MD/PhD students. The first fellows will be named this fall.