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Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center among leaders in San Diego's biotech arena

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Construction of a new research facility and ongoing success in obtaining program grants are two indications of the growth and recognition now being experienced by cutting-edge cancer research center, the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in San Diego. Currently celebrating its 15th year, the nonprofit organization is poised to continue making strides in biotech in San Diego.

Doctors and officials at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center were on hand to watch the topping off of the new science research building, scheduled to open in November.

On target to open in November, SKCC's new $24.5 million science research building celebrated a major construction milestone March 15 with a "topping off" ceremony for the two-story structure.

Scientists and staff, business and community leaders, and supporters of the nonprofit cancer research institute watched as the final pieces of the building's structural steel frame were put into place.

Prior to the ceremonial hoisting, hundreds of donors, supporters and employees signed the white steel girder that will permanently rest at the front of the science research building.

Located on approximately 10 acres, SKCC's campus is in the heart of one of San Diego's most concentrated biotech and research regions. The new 90,000-square-foot science research building will have more than 71,000 square feet devoted to science research space, including 54 lab research benches, research equipment rooms and a seminar/conference center.

"This is an exciting step in our ongoing mission to develop advanced biological cancer treatments and to making those treatments readily available in San Diego," said SKCC President and CEO Albert B. Deisseroth. "This new science research space will help us attract additional faculty with the goal of accelerating the translation of discoveries in genomics to genetic tests for cancer, immunobiology into cancer vaccines, vascular biology into vascular targeting therapy, and cancer cell biology into new drugs for cancer treatment."

Already in progress at SKCC are several nationally recognized and funded programs. Deisseroth, who this year presides over the International Society of Cancer Gene and Cell Therapy, continues to work toward clinical testing for a breast cancer vaccine. In October he received $250,000 from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, bringing the foundation's total contribution to Deisseroth's breast cancer research to more than $1 million.

SKCC's Scientific Director Dr. Jan Schnitzer currently has nearly a dozen active grants from the National Institutes of Health. Recognized as one of San Diego Magazine's 50 People to Watch in 2006, Schnitzer is the author of more than 65 publications and book chapters, and he frequently makes presentations at medical conferences. On March 30 and 31 Schnitzer will be a Plenary Leader along with other world-famous scientists at the sixth annual Proteomics Conference at the Konkuk University in Korea. His topic is "From Bench to Clinical Application." Schnitzer also serves on many NIH and National Cancer Institute grant-review panels.

Late last year, Schnitzer received a $4.8 million, multi-year grant from NCI to advance the development of nanotechnology platforms for cancer therapy. The award is part of a $144.3 million, five-year initiative by NCI to develop biomedical nanotechnology, biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics tools that can be used to better identify cancer at the earliest stages and predict likely clinical outcomes. The tools will aid physicians in choosing the most effective treatments for their patients.

"Think of nanotechnology as the modern realization of events dramatized in old sci-fi movies such as 'Fantastic Voyage,' that we all saw as kids," Schnitzer explained. "Miniaturized probes were injected into the blood stream to go throughout the body not only to report back the state of each organ, but now actually to seek out and even treat cancer." Schnitzer's research will capitalize on his previous experience, identifying and validating new cancer targets using unique nanotechnology developed in his laboratory.

"Nanomedicine has the potential to provide new treatments and even cures for many diseases," Schnitzer continued. "But its complexity requires the interaction of many fields of science, from chemistry to physics to biology to clinical medicine. All must work cooperatively and learn each other's 'language' to create new, effective and biocompatible nanoparticles that can revolutionize medicine and cancer treatment as we know it today."

Schnitzer's research team includes scientists with expertise in chemistry, nanoparticle generation and characterization, immunology, tumor biology, molecular imaging and vascular cell biology. Over the next five years, they will test the ability of novel nanoparticles to deliver drugs and imaging agents directly to tumors.

The work will have application across a spectrum of solid tumor cancers, including prostate, breast, lung, kidney, colorectal and ovarian cancers.

Also in progress in Schnitzer's lab at SKCC is cancer "ZIP code" research funded last year by a $14.4 million NCI Program Project Grant. In May, Schnitzer became the lead investigator of a team of more than 20 veteran investigators from four institutions (SKCC, UCSD, Scripps Research Institute and Yale University) charged with the development of therapies that focus on tumor blood vessels as a means of targeting, penetrating and destroying solid tumors.

Schnitzer's research has identified a "ZIP code" molecule for cancer, which allows drugs to be "mailed" directly to tumor blood vessels, improving drug effectiveness while eliminating the usual side effects of conventional chemotherapies. Schnitzer hopes to have the therapy in a clinical trial this year.

For more information, visit www.skcc.org.

Percival is principal of Scribe Communications

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