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First wave of Masons-funded research in action

Daniel Vallera, Ph.D., received funding to move new drugs he engineered into clinical trials.When Minnesota Masonic Charities pledged $65 million to the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, two years ago, the organization had one mission in mind: eliminating cancer as a scourge of humankind by investing in research.

Today the first research projects funded through this gift are under way, and all eyes are focused on improving outcomes for patients.

Masonic Cancer Center scientist Daniel Vallera, Ph.D., for example, in his University lab created a new line of biologically engineered drugs designed to kill cancer without harming patients’ healthy tissue.

“They’re very different from most drugs,” he says, in that they selectively target cancer cells and, for the most part, leave healthy cells alone.

Because of the success they’ve had in animal models, Vallera and his team are now getting ready to move the drugs to a Phase I clinical trial evaluating the treatment’s safety and effectiveness in patients with several types of cancer, including bladder, brain, breast, colon, head and neck, kidney, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, and prostate.

“We are excited about these drugs because they have proven highly effective against some of our deadliest cancers,” says Vallera, adding that they’ll be used to treat patients in Minnesota first.

The Minnesota Masonic Charities pledge is funding not only experimental therapeutics projects like Vallera’s, aimed at bringing laboratory breakthroughs to patients, but it’s also funding innovative pilot studies in the Masonic Cancer Center, recruitment packages for promising early-career scientists, and efforts of key physicians in the Medical School’s Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation.

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