Award Advances Screening Method for New IPF Therapies

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by Joana Carvalho |

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A researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center received the first $50,000 award of a new funding program jointly developed by the center and the Washington Research Foundation (WRF) to support the development of a new screening method to identify emerging therapies for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

The awardee, Taran Gujral, PhD, and colleagues previously had developed an artificial-intelligence (AI)-based therapy screening method that allowed them to recreate the complex environment of cells that are known to be involved in IPF.

Using this approach, the team was able to identify Cpd1, an approved, off-patent cancer medication, as a potential candidate to slow IPF progression with fewer side effects for patients.

With the new award given by the joint funding program, Gujral and his team will partner with experts in lung fibrosis (scarring) to confirm Cpd1’s therapeutic effects, and generate sufficient evidence to support its advance into clinical testing in humans.

The funds also will be used to further develop and refine the AI-based screening platform that now holds the power to rapidly identify compounds that target specific molecules involved in a variety of disorders.

“This effort to move new treatments closer to the clinic exemplifies the type of research that we are excited to support. We are looking forward to working with the team as their research continues to mature,” Will Canestaro, managing director of the WRF, said in a press release.

Gujral’s award is part of a set of pilot Phase 1 Technology Development Awards that make up a portion of the awards given by the new funding program launched by WRF in collaboration with the Fred Hutch, in Seattle.

This new funding scheme has been created to support innovative research projects in the field of life sciences being carried out by scientists working at Fred Hutch, as well as to accelerate the development and commercialization of potential new therapies.

As part of its commitment to the funding program, the WRF will grant a total of $750,000 that will be used to offer at least two Phase 2 Technology Development Awards totaling $250,000 each, along with at least five pilot Phase 1 Technology Development Awards of $50,000 each, to Fred Hutch researchers over the next 18 months.

“This gift formalizes and scales our commitment so that we can continue to support the best researchers here in Washington. There is tremendous promise in the research happening at the Hutch, and we are excited to continue supporting the investigators who make it all possible,” Canestaro said.

Investigators’ project proposals will be evaluated based on their novelty, potential commercial value, and ease of market access.

“WRF is a leading philanthropic partner in Washington state and shares our vision of advancing early stage research including translational medicine, improving patient care, and elevating our region,” said Kelly O’Brien, vice president of Philanthropy at Fred Hutch.

“We’ve collaborated successfully with WRF for years, and we’re excited to work even more closely with their team to identify projects ready to move from bench to the bedside and have an impact on patients,” O’Brien added.

In addition to funding, WRF also will lend its expertise in technology development and commercialization to award winners like Gujral.

“Fred Hutch is fantastic as an innovative research center, creating early-stage science poised for development. But as an academic nonprofit, we don’t have capabilities or the infrastructure to take new technologies to scale,” said Hilary Hehman, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and alliances at Fred Hutch.

“WRF is a critical collaborator in accelerating the translation of our discoveries to the people who need them most. Their expertise will be a huge resource for the faculty,” Hehman said.

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