AURIC uses anti-tumor drug to research skin cancer cure

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One of the scariest words in the English language is cancer.

According to the President's Cancer Panel, 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime and 20 percent of people will die from it. It is a disease that affects everyone.

But researchers at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine are trying to find a cure for the disease by testing on malignant melanoma.

Scientists with the Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer will be working with Nuovo Biologics, a biotechnology company based in Florida, to research a new anti-cancer drug.

This is the first biotech cooperative for the AURIC.

Nuovo and Auburn University have been in contact for about two years.

"It's really good that Auburn University is entertaining partnerships with industry to do applied research and development," said Dr. Jay Yourist, CEO of Nuovo Biologics. "I believe we have created a very strong collaboration."

Though paperwork is still being done, clinical trials of the new drug should begin soon. "The FDA has given us the opportunity to go after a condition approval for canine malignant melanoma," Yourist said. "Melanoma is a very aggressive tumor." Melanoma is a form of skin cancer.

The findings in dogs could eventually help humans.

"Dogs and humans both get melanoma," said AURIC director Dr. Bruce Smith.

"Canines are a very good model for the human disease," Yourist said, "(Nuovo and Auburn) are looking at animal models to translate to the human space."

Testing on dogs would be a humane process. According to Smith, random dogs would not be given melanoma just for research purposes.

"Testing would be done on people's pets with melanoma," Smith said. "We will offer to let them in on an experimental trial."

Smith is optimistic that the new drug will be successful.

"There is pretty good evidence so far," Smith said. However he also added, "As a scientist I have to keep an open mind."

The AURIC is also working on many other cancer treatments, with cancer research being done across the university.

"Cancer research is a university-wide effort," Smith said.

Dr. Curt Bird, a Professor of Molecular Biology and Cancer Genetics, has an ongoing clinical trial with dogs with breast cancer. He is working on a therapeutic vaccine that would help the immune system kill the cancer.

Other researchers at Auburn are hoping to perfect older ways of curing cancer.

Dr. Valery Petrenko, Professor in the Department of Pathobiology, is developing a chemotherapy technique that is more effective.

"Chemotherapy is very toxic," Smith said, "It will kill the cancer cells, but will also kill good cells."

Smith said chemotherapy was like spraying a yard with a weed killer to kill the weeds, but killing your grass in the process.

Petrenko is working to deliver chemo in a way that would only kill the cancerous cells.

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