Scientists at the University of Missouri–St. Louis have received a $1.83 million, five-year R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health for their research on new antiviral drug candidates that they hope will be used to fight high-risk human papillomavirus, or HPV, the cause of most cervical cancer. The grant is called “Biophysics of Drug Interactions with Viral Episomes.”

The lead investigator for the project is James Bashkin, who will collaborate with Cynthia Dupureur and Michael Nichols. All three are faculty members in the Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry and the Center for Nanoscience at UMSL. They are collaborating with Chris Fisher director of biology at NanoVir, LLC, a drug discovery company dedicated to finding treatments for HPV. Founded in 2003 by Bashkin and Fisher, NanoVir is based in Kalamazoo, Mich.

“We all are extremely happy that the NIH is supporting our research, which addresses the fundamental science of new antiviral candidates,” Bashkin said. “We are working toward an understanding of molecules that were designed to be therapeutic treatments for early intervention against cancer-causing forms of HPV.”

Bashkin said there are two vaccines on the market that protect against two of the eight known forms of HPV that cause cancer. In addition, the vaccines aren’t yet used by enough people to have realized their full potential impact.

A drug therapy would treat women who have not and will not benefit from the vaccines, and so would have a direct impact on women’s health.

In 2007, the National Cancer Institute estimated that 11,000 women in the United States would be diagnosed with this type of cancer and nearly 4,000 would die from it. There are no drugs currently approved in the United States that specifically treats HPV infection. Cervical cancer is second only to breast cancer among lethal cancers that affect women worldwide.

NIH supported the NanoVir/UMSL collaborative project through three previous Small Business Technology Transfer grants to NanoVir, one of which is still ongoing.

The NIH, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting medical research. Helping to lead the way toward important medical discoveries that improve people’s health and save lives, NIH scientists investigate ways to prevent disease as well as the causes, treatments, and even cures for common and rare diseases. Composed of 27 institutes and centers, the NIH provides leadership and financial support to researchers in every state and throughout the world.

More information:

Kylie Shafferkoetter

Kylie Shafferkoetter