Federal grants to fund liver cancer, tissue repair and skin disease projects

Two University of Western Australia projects have received National Health and Medical Research Council development grants to assess new RNA-based therapies for liver cancer and develop a drug to alter tissue repair and inflammatory skin diseases.

UWA Professor Peter Leedman, director of the Harry Perkins Institute for Medical Research, said liver cancer is fast becoming one of the most difficult cancers to treat with a poor prognosis and few treatment options.

“New treatments are urgently needed and the world of RNA technology offers opportunities for new therapies,” Professor Leedman said. “This $483,000 grant will help evaluate one of these drugs.”

RNA molecules in a cell carry instructions for making proteins. They can also help genes turn on and off, facilitate chemical reactions, modify other RNAs, and even create proteins.

“We are developing an RNA-based drug to treat liver cancer that, if successful, could potentially change the way patients are treated and improve their outcomes,” Professor Leedman said.

“The RNA drug, called mRx-7, inhibits the growth of liver cancer cells. The grant enables a highly collaborative team from Perth, Sydney, Texas and Vancouver to test mRx-7 alone and in combination with other gold standard treatments and assess how well it is tolerated.

This project will evaluate the effectiveness of the new drug and develop some of the essential data needed to move it into a clinical trial.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Mark Fear and Professor Fiona Wood of UWA’s Burns Research Unit have also received $590,264 to develop a new treatment for tissue repair and inflammatory diseases of the skin.

Slow tissue repair, excessive scarring, and many skin diseases are due to the body’s inappropriate or excessive immune response to the injury or environmental trigger. A family of enzymes, called serine proteases, plays a key role in this process.

Associate Professor Fear said they were developing a new drug that could target these serine proteases and aimed to generate data to support the drug’s first human trials at the end of the study.

“It’s great to be working with a new compound and a new drug target with Pharmaxis to modify tissue repair and inflammatory skin disease,” he said.

“While our previous collaboration is now moving an anti-fibrotic drug into clinical trials, this new grant gives us the opportunity to target a novel pathway that may improve the healing trajectory for patients, reduce the time spent hospital and improve their outcomes.”

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