Published August 22, 2007
Updated February 7, 2011

Cancer Research and NeoTREX

Building on more than 35 years of excellence in cancer research and biomedicine, Colorado State University announced its second Supercluster, Cancer Research and Treatment, along with NeoTREX, an embedded business enterprise dedicated to speeding the transition of life-saving cancer research from the academic world to the global marketplace.

Dr. Terry Opgenorth has been named the chief operating officer for NeoTREX. He will also serve as COO of MicroRx, the business arm of the university's first Supercluster focused on infectious disease research that was announced in February. Opgenorth joins the university after 20 years with Abbott Laboratories' Global Pharmaceutical Research and Development organization.

The academic side of the Supercluster will be under the direction of Dr. Stephen Withrow, director of the university's internationally esteemed Animal Cancer Center. Dr. Robert Ullrich, current director of research in oncology for the university's Animal Cancer Center and a professor in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, will serve as the Cancer Supercluster's director of research. Withrow and Ullrich also will serve as chief scientific officer and chief research officer, respectively, of NeoTREX.

Collaboration across five colleges

The Cancer Supercluster is a collaboration of the university's Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Natural Sciences, Health and Human Sciences, Agricultural Sciences and Engineering. It builds on more than three decades of Colorado State excellence in cancer research currently funded by organizations such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the National Cancer Institute, Morris Animal Foundation and U.S. Department of Energy.

The goal of the Supercluster is to develop effective treatments and products in the fight against cancer and quickly moving these advances into the marketplace to the people who need them.

"We are excited to begin work within the Cancer Supercluster and NeoTREX. NeoTREX will translate groundbreaking scientific research from Colorado State to the marketplace, so that cancer solutions are developed and delivered faster for the people who need them," said University President Larry Edward Penley. "Our Supercluster model encourages researchers' direct collaboration with industry experts, enabling faculty to focus on what they do best -- innovation and research into great global challenges such as cancer -- and taking advantage of the corporate drive to market for that research for public benefit."

The development of the Superclusters and expanded investment in university research have been central components of Penley's vision for Colorado State and are key elements of the University Strategic Plan developed under his leadership. Colorado State has seen considerable growth in research expenditures, faculty and new facilities over the last several years, but the launch of the Superclusters this year has drawn the most national and international attention because of the potential for the innovative design to transform the way universities handle technology transfer.

Treating a devasting diseases

"While tremendous efforts have been made to advance cures and treatments for cancer, it recently surpassed heart disease as the number one killer in the nation, and continues to be one of the most devastating diseases all across the globe," said Tony Frank, Provost and Senior Vice President. "Colorado State's multi-disciplinary programs in cancer research, along with numerous partnerships with the world's top cancer research centers, position the university to make a tremendous impact in the fight against this disease by developing novel drugs and techniques to better treat and ideally to prevent cancer."

Dr. Withrow, a world-renowned oncologist and surgeon, holds the Stuart Chair in Oncology and is a University Distinguished Professor, the highest honor bestowed at Colorado State. His research interests include bone cancer, pet cancer as a model for human disease and spontaneously occurring cancer in companion animals. His research has led to collaborations with researchers at the National Cancer Institute and the Children's Oncology Group. Among other accomplishments, Withrow developed a limb-sparing surgical technique to treat osteosarcoma in dogs that has been widely adopted to treat human cancer, significantly increasing the likelihood that children diagnosed with the disease will be cured.

"The development of the Cancer Supercluster and NeoTrex provide both human and animal cancer researchers with the opportunity to work closely together for the benefit of both species," said Dr. Withrow. "This new structure develops a cancer research and treatment enterprise that can significantly impact the global cancer problem. Our long-term objective will be to advance beyond chronic treatment to detection, prevention and cures for this disease."

Dr. Ullrich has studied cancer in an effort to understand its cause, to find cures and develop preventative medicines since 1974, and has received 30 years of consecutive funding from the National Cancer Institute. He holds the Barbara Cox Anthony university chair and currently oversees activities for 12 research laboratories within the university's Animal Cancer Center and nearly $3 million in annual funding for cancer research and training. Ullrich also directs the $9.7 million NASA-funded Specialized Center of Research which focuses on advancing cancer research and treatment for pets and people by finding innovative approaches for estimating cancer risks from space radiation identifying genetic changes that are responsible radiation-induced leukemia.

"Cancer is a major public health issue and a burden on the wellness of all societies around the globe," said Dr. Ullrich. "Colorado State has a rich history in researching cancer -- from the basic science behind how it succeeds in a body to developing cures and treatments. Over the last 40 years, the knowledge and expertise that has been developed here at Colorado State to fight this devastating disease is nearly unquantifiable."

A strong foundation at Colorado State

The Cancer Supercluster is built upon a nationally dominant foundation of cancer research already in existence at Colorado State. The current cancer program at the university encompasses 65 faculty members from 12 departments. Research and training within the program includes carcinogenesis, chemoprevention, cancer risk assessment, cancer diagnosis, experimental therapeutics, medical oncology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, and core related sciences including genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, bioinformatics and pharmacokinetics.

Much of the Supercluster, however, is based around the work of the university's Animal Cancer Center, the largest center of its kind in the world, which is devoted to caring for animals with cancer and researching cures and preventative medical interventions for the disease. Since it was established 25 years ago, the Animal Cancer Center has grown to be the largest companion animal cancer research center in the United States, training more veterinary oncologists than any other veterinary teaching hospital in the world. Going beyond the veterinary profession, the Animal Cancer Center has an international reputation for its collaborations with human cancer institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, the National Cancer Institute and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Additional programs at Colorado State working within the Supercluster structure include the cancer biology program. The program, within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, is the first of its kind to focus on training graduate students on the basic science of the causes and prevention of cancer, cancer diagnosis, therapies and risk assessment.  

A unique research program within Colorado State's College of Agricultural Sciences focuses on unlocking the secrets of varieties of food as cancer-fighting and cancer-prevention tools. The program is delving into properties of different varieties of fruits, vegetables and grains and how they impact human cancer risk. In addition, it also looks at how foods can be grown and produced to accentuate cancer-fighting properties.

In the College of Natural Sciences, Colorado State researchers have discovered how the Kaposi sarcoma herpesvirus - one of society's most troublesome virulent diseases - uses a protein to attach itself to chromosomes, allowing the virus to hide within the cells and cause them to be malignant. The disease affects patients infected with AIDS. That discovery has helped scientists understand more about the basic building blocks of chromosomes and apply a molecular understanding of human genome control mechanisms. This could pave the way for unsurpassed advances in the biological sciences, physics, chemistry and other life sciences areas and could lead to major human health benefits.

Also, researchers within the college are examining life cycle of the human T-cell leukemia virus, a rapidly developing form of cancer which affects up to 20 million people worldwide each year.

Professors in engineering, chemistry, horticulture and landscape architecture are also working together to develop a new microchip assay for quantifying DNA damage resulting from several diseases, including cancer.

Each Colorado State Supercluster, organized around a critical global challenge, appoints a chief scientific officer who oversees cutting-edge academic research activities. A chief operating officer focuses on forging business partnerships and developing new opportunities for the results of that research. The Supercluster's technology transfer manager will seek opportunities for patents, licenses and startups. The team also will seek private equity investors for new business opportunities emanating from these activities.