The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Dr. Mayumi Nakagawa was awarded $3.6 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for clinical trials of PepCan, a breakthrough vaccine she developed at UAMS to treat cancers caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). The five-year grant renewal brings her total national grant funding to just over $10 million.
Dr. Nakagawa is an internationally recognized expert in HPV immunology and a professor of Pathology and Laboratory Sciences in the UAMS College of Medicine. She is also co-leader of the Cancer Prevention and Population Sciences Program in the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute.
The Centers for Disease Control report that HPV is responsible for more than 90% of anal and cervical cancers, about 70% of vaginal and vulvar cancers, and more than 60% of penile cancers. While most HPV vaccines prevent the virus in people who have never had it, Nakagawa’s vaccine shows promise in treating women who already have HPV and are more likely to get cancer.
“It’s a long process and a lot of work,” Nakagawa said. “I’m extremely lucky to be renewed. It’s difficult enough to get first-cycle funding.”
NCI funded her phase one clinical trial at UAMS, which tested the vaccine’s safety. With the additional funding, Nakagawa can finish testing the vaccine on cervical pre-cancer. She will also expand enrollment of another trial treating head and neck cancer patients across the U.S. If successful, Nakagawa hopes to find industry partners who can take the study to phase three and get FDA approval.
Nakagawa’s work has received funding from numerous other organizations, including the Cancer Research Institute and the American Cancer Society. Her work has been presented at many national and international scientific meetings.