Texas A&M organic chemist Dr. Kevin Burgess' precision efforts to make chemistry more efficient are making a difference for industries spanning the gamut of medicinal research and pharmacology. (Photo by Jim Lyle / Courtesy of Texas A&M Foundation.)


Texas A&M University chemist Kevin Burgess has been selected to receive one of 41 new grants announced last week by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Burgess, an organic chemist and inaugural holder of the Rachal Chair in Chemistry since 2004, received a $200,000 High Impact/High Risk (HIHR) award for his proposal, "Small Molecules to Perturb a Novel PPI Target for Chemotherapy." His was one of 16 grants totaling nearly $3.2 million in the HIHR category, which funds projects expected to contribute major new insights and ideas into the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancers.

For the past two decades, Burgess' research has been helping to make chemistry more efficient for industries spanning the gamut of medicinal research and pharmacology, thanks to his expertise in designing compounds to disrupt protein-protein interactions impacting a host of diseases, including cancer, diabetes and neurological disorders. In addition to new fluorescent dyes to monitor these disruptions, he has developed a computational approach to aid in the process of finding small molecules capable of causing these disruptions, resulting in new possibilities in medicine as well as fundamental research.

Burgess is seeking to apply that expertise in his CPRIT-related research to improve treatments for acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer with a poor prognosis, particularly for older people. Most established drugs to treat AML are horribly toxic. However, Burgess says there are emerging treatments that are far more tolerable because they are capable of directly targeting the actual cancer cells through their specific biochemical pathways, making these cells much more vulnerable to the drug than healthy ones. One such drug candidate in clinical trials, MLN4924, is unique because it targets a protein called NAE and renders it unable to bind to another protein called NEDD8.

"Clinical data for MLN4924 is extremely promising, but cell studies indicate some forms of AML could be resistant," Burgess said. "Consequently, it is highly desirable to explore compounds with the potential to prevent NAE interacting with NEDD8 in a different way, and that is the focus of the work CPRIT has decided to support. We are extremely grateful for this opportunity to explore this avenue of research."

In addition to Burgess, the Texas A&M Health Science Center also was awarded a $5,593,882 Core Facilities Support Award (CFSA) toward the Combinatorial Drug Discovery Program (CDDP), as well as two individual $200,000 HIHR grants. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service also received a $1.5 million Competitive Continuation/Expansion Grant to increase breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic rates in rural, frontier and border counties among uninsured, underserved women.

Most recently in the College of Science, Texas A&M chemist Jonathan Sczepanski earned a $2 million First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Member recruitment grant as part of CPRIT's Feb. 18 funding cycle. Sczepanski will join the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry in August as an assistant professor and the university's second CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research.

To date, CPRIT has awarded approximately $1.33 billion in grants that are helping make advancements in prevention and treatment of cancer possible every day. To be eligible to receive CPRIT funds, applicants must be Texas-based entities, including public or private institutions of higher education, academic health institutions, universities, government organizations, non-governmental organizations, other public or private companies, or individuals residing in Texas.

For additional information about CPRIT, visit http://www.cprit.state.tx.us/.

To learn more about Texas A&M Chemistry, go to http://www.chem.tamu.edu.

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About Research at Texas A&M University: As one of the world's leading research institutions, Texas A&M is at the forefront in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $820 million in FY 2013, ranking Texas A&M in the top 20 of the National Science Foundation's most recent survey of research and development expenditures among U.S. colleges and universities. Recently reported FY 2014 research expenditures exceed $854 million. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental, and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation and world. To learn more, visit http://research.tamu.edu.

About the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas: Beginning operations in 2009, CPRIT has to date awarded more than $1.33 billion in grants to Texas researchers, institutions, non-profits and private enterprises. CPRIT provides funding through its scientific- and product-development-related research and prevention programs. Programs made possible with CPRIT funding have reached all 254 counties of the state, brought more than 80 distinguished researchers to Texas, advanced scientific and clinical knowledge, and provided more than two million life-saving education, training, prevention and early detection services to Texans. Learn more at http://www.cprit.state.tx.us.


Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Kevin Burgess, (979) 845-4345 or burgess@tamu.edu

Hutchins Shana

  • Kevin Burgess

    (Photo by Jim Lyle / Courtesy of Texas A&M Foundation.)

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