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DURHAM, N.C. -- Researchers at the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2), a nonprofit foundation, hope to compress the lengthy and expensive process of testing new brain cancer drugs through a unique collaboration to accelerate drug development faster than traditional approaches.

"The goal of the collaboration is to rapidly move potentially life-saving drugs from the laboratory to the clinic in an effort to save brain tumor patients, who have little time and few therapeutic options available to them," said Darell Bigner, M.D., director pro tempore of the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The protocol invites researchers from any venue – academia, corporations and government agencies – to submit compounds to Duke for immediate screening, free of charge. "Such an offer is highly unusual in the drug research and development arena," said Bigner, "where funding is extremely scarce for so-called 'translational' studies that advance drugs from the laboratory to the clinic.

"With the help of ABC2, we are filling a tremendous void in the drug discovery and development arena," said Bigner. "The partnership is truly unique because ABC2 is establishing a critical link between biotech and pharmaceutical companies and academia to quickly evaluate compounds and move them into clinical trials."

The open invitation to researchers is expected to encourage pharmaceutical companies to submit their approved and experimental anti-cancer drugs (for breast, colon, lung cancer, etc.) to Duke for further testing for their potential utility against brain cancer, since there will be no cost to the companies.

According to Bigner, Duke is in a unique position to provide this opportunity because of its creative partnership with ABC2, which is helping to fund the drug discovery process for brain tumor drugs at Duke. Funding from ABC2 will support researchers in the Brain Tumor Center at Duke as they test new and existing compounds that may act against the most common form of brain cancer, malignant glioma. Duke is well positioned to test new and existing compounds because it has a large number of human gliomas developed from biopsies that grow in immunocompromised mice, said Bigner.

"Typically, the drug testing process is long and laborious," said Henry Friedman, M.D., clinical co-director of the Brain Tumor Center at Duke. "Researchers can spend years testing a single compound in laboratory cell cultures, then in mice, just to find that it lacks the same effect in humans. The cost for such endeavors is huge. Few companies can afford to invest their research dollars on finding cures for rare diseases that affect small percentages of the population, as does brain cancer. Thus, funding sources are scarce and few compounds ever make it into the final stages of testing."

The new partnership will enable the Duke team to rapidly screen and test new drugs in the lab, then move them into the clinic more quickly than traditional approaches – within 18 to 24 months after testing – to potentially save patients who are likely to die of this life-threatening disease, said Friedman.

Researchers from academia, corporations and government agencies will be invited to submit applications for their drugs to be screened at no cost to them. A joint committee at Duke and ABC2 will review compounds prior to testing their utility in animal models. Applicants and their drugs will be selected throughout the year 2002 based upon parameters that will be posted on the ABC2 Web site, www.abc2.org.

ABC2 was founded May 2001 by Dan and Steve Case and their families, along with leading scientists and entrepreneurs. In order to accelerate progress in what has been an underserved field of research, ABC2 provides researchers from all backgrounds with the support they need to make critical breakthroughs in brain cancer research. ABC2 aims to raise awareness about brain cancer and help mobilize critical scientific research through research grants and partnerships.

Additional information about the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center can be found on the Web at www.cancer.duke.edu.