3 u A b C A N C e r C e N T e r2 u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r u A b C o m P r e H e N S I V e C A N C e r C e N T e r 3
B y J o s h T i l l
moSt PromiSiNg moNocLoNAL
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tigAtuzumAB, ALSo KNoWN AS trA-8. it WorKS By
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AS “deAth recePtorS,” triggeriNg ceLL deAth.
and some are the results of years of research.
But all are examples of UAB’s status as an
international leader in the fight against can-
BREAkthROUghs IN BREAst CANCER REsEARCh
For many years, the Cancer Center has
been recognized as a leader in the research
and development of monoclonal antibodies,
which are laboratory-produced molecules that
bind to specific proteins on the surface of
tumor cells and interfere with cell function.
One of the most promising of these has
been the monoclonal antibody tigatuzumab,
also known as TRA-8. Developed at UAB
by Cancer Center scientist Tong Zhou,
M.D., tigatuzumab works by targeting spe-
cific sites on cell surfaces known as “death
receptors,” triggering cell death. It was a
particularly exciting discovery because at the
time, not many believed an antibody could
directly induce cell death.
Tigatuzumab had previously shown prom-
ise in treating breast, colon, lung, pancreatic,
brain and prostate cancer in animal models.
Because of that, the antibody was moved
quickly into human trials. In 2010, the Cancer
Center launched the first trial of tigatuzumab
for patients with metastatic triple negative
breast cancer, which accounts for about 25
percent of all breast cancers and seems to
show the greatest response to tigatuzumab.
Much of the early work involving tig-
atuzumab was funded by the Birmingham-
based Breast Cancer Research Foundation
of Alabama. Further funding to continue
this work came in 2009 in the form of a
$6.4-million Promise Grant from the Susan
G. Komen for the Cure Foundation and the The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center
was one of the first eight centers to receive
that prestigious designation, and since that
time, it has solidified its status as one of
the premier cancer centers in the United
While UAB’s cancer program took a
leap forward in 1968 with the Courage
Crusade—which followed the death of
Governor Lurleen Burns Wallace (see side-
bar on page 5)—the investment from the
National Cancer Act allowed the institu-
tion to become a major player in the war on
That investment—a $254,334 plan-
Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
“This antibody is a perfect example of
the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s
strength in translating our laboratory dis-
coveries into treatments for our patients,”
says Cancer Center senior scientist Andres
Forero, M.D., principal investigator for
these studies. “It’s a major accomplishment
and incredibly exciting.”
REsEARCh IN REtINOIDs For more than 20 years, Cancer Center
senior scientists Donald Muccio, Ph.D., and
Wayne Brouillette, Ph.D., have been engi-
neering cancer-fighting retinoids derived from
vitamin A. Their laboratory has designed and
synthesized more than 100 such compounds
and patented many of these novel molecules.
One of the most promising of these
compounds is UAB-30, which was selected
for further tests by the NCI’s RAPID
(Rapid Access to Preventive Intervention
Development) program to determine its
safety, toxicity and pharmacology prior to
developing initial clinical trials.
Retinoids fight cancer in three ways: by
controlling cell growth, by controlling dif-
ferentiation to keep cells in a normally func-
tioning state and by controlling apoptosis (cell
death). UAB-30 was chosen for the RAPID ning grant from the National Cancer
Institute—has paid off. Today, the UAB
Comprehensive Cancer Center is home to
more than 350 scientists and physicians,
and it generates more than $100 million
in research support from outside sources.
It remains the only comprehensive cancer
center in Alabama as well as in the six-state
region of the Deep South that stretches
from South Carolina to Louisiana and
This issue of UAB Comprehensive Cancer
Center celebrates the Comprehensive Cancer
Center’s 40th anniversary by highlighting
some of its top discoveries. Some are recent,
In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon signed the National Cancer Act, a revolutionary piece of
legislation that designated federal money for cancer research, treatment and education. It also
established the “comprehensive” cancer center designation for institutions that provided the
most advanced cancer care, research and education based on stringent peer-reviewed criteria.
C A N C e R C e N t e R t I M e l I N e
Death of Governor lurleen b. Wallace from cancer initiates statewide fundraising drive known as the Courage Crusade.
uAb cancer program organized, with Dr. John Durant appointed as director. Courage Crusade raises $5 million and,
with additional funds from the National Cancer Institute, allows construction of the Wallace Tumor Institute and Wallace Patient Tower at uAb Hospital.
uAb established as one of the first eight comprehensive cancer centers by the National Cancer Act.
of Discoveries: Four Decades
One OF the
thE UAB COMpREhENsIVE CANCER CENtER
CELEBRAtEs 40 YeArS Of pROgREss AND pROMIsE