Cancer researcher receives inaugural Weinman Innovator Award

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: May 26, 2010

André Bachmann, PhD and associate professor at the Cancer Research Center of Hawai‘i, is the recipient of the inaugural Weinman Innovator Award for Translational Research.  He will receive $50,000 to support his work on neuroblastoma, an aggressive pediatric tumor originating in nerve tissue cells.
This annual award is funded as a component of the $1.7 million Weinman Foundation Fund for Innovation endowment to the Cancer Center, provided by Virginia and Barry Weinman to support the development of cutting-edge cancer research.
Bachmann’s research proposal is based on his application of a novel way to kill neuroblastoma tumors, which has resulted in the successful development and activation of a clinical trial for children with advanced neuroblastoma. This treatment concept involves repurposing of an old drug, DFMO or alpha-difluoromethylornithine, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of African sleeping sickness, and is orally available with a high safety profile.
In the treatment of African sleeping sickness, DFMO targets a protein called ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) that is produced by the parasite responsible for the illness. In its application against neuroblastoma, DFMO also targets ODC, which is responsible for producing molecules called polyamines that, if present in high amounts, transform normal cells to cancerous cells that reproduce uncontrollably.
“I am glad to see that there is a growing trend in medical science to take a fresh look at forgotten drugs and to repurpose them for new applications,” Bachmann states. “If new applications can be found for a drug that has gone through all the pharmacology testing and clinical trials, it saves time and money. Developing a new drug from start to finish costs millions of dollars, and the drug can ‘drop out’ at any stage of research and development. A repurposed drug may in many cases be safer and cheaper.”
The Innovator Award will help Bachmann further develop his drug therapy for neuroblastoma and possibly other cancers that have similar genetic defects. He would like to discover a second drug that, if combined with DFMO, exponentially increases its anti-cancer effect.
He and his colleagues have identified a new candidate drug that targets the same molecule group, but in a slightly different way. If their hypothesis is correct, this would mean a more drastic tumor killing effect, with the added benefit that lower drug concentrations may be given to patients, thereby further reducing undesirable side effects. The Innovator Award will be instrumental in answering this question and possibly further improving the available drug inventory for the treatment of children with neuroblastoma.