Daniel Vallera

Lion Scholar of Molecular Therapeutics

Research Summary

The goal of our laboratory is to advance the field of cancer by genetically engineering and testing new biological drugs against chemotherapy refractory cancer. These new drugs kill by a mechanism entirely different than chemotherapy. We believe that we are in a unique position to address some of the most pressing issues including the engagement of the innate immune system to kill cancer. A new genre of drugs show that cancer metastasis can effectively be combated by engaging the immune system to selectively kill tumors. We developed a new drug platform that works extremely well in recruiting NK cells to kill leukemia cells. In addition to my conventional laboratory, I am fortunate to have a cGMP laboratory that manufactures FDA compliant drugs for phase 1 testing. We published our first clinical trial with one of these drugs in Clinical Cancer Research. We have an accomplished team of experts that can help this integrated effort succeed. Our laboratory has an established track-record in animal models and I have a background in immunology, experimental therapeutics, molecular biology, radiation oncology, and gene therapy that has served us well. Over the last 35 years, I have built my career and reputation on cell selective drug targeting and am recognized as a major contributor to the field. My immunology and molecular biology background has served me well and my team has published over a hundred and eighty PubMed papers. Our success in translational research is evidenced by our bringing targeted drugs to phase 1 clinical trial. The most recent targeted toxin will now enter phase 2 testing. We currently have active INDs and are treating patients at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. I have a demonstrated a record of successful and productive research projects in an area of translational, biological drug development and serve as inventor on several patents held by the University of Minnesota.

Our laboratory specializes in the design and development of new anti-cancer biologic agents with the goal of getting them into the clinic as quickly as possible. Typically, new hybrid proteins are synthesized by combining genes encoding cancer cell binding domains with genes encoding molecules that deliver death signals. The resulting proteins selectively bind to cancer cells, internalize the death signal, and kill the cancer cells. Thus, they provide cancer specific therapy in a manner that chemotherapeutic agents cannot. These new anti-cancer agents are primarily directed to overexpressed signal markers on the surface of cancer cells and we have successfully produced promising fusion proteins that can kill brain tumors, breast cancer, leukemia, and cells causing organ rejection. In order to facilitate the delivery of these agents at the site of the tumor, another approach under study uses gene therapy. We are fashioning retroviruses containing our target genes and using them to infect tumor reactive T cells. The T cells have the ability to migrate to tumor and secrete the anti-cancer molecule at site where they can have the greatest effect. Another facet of our work focuses on the use of targeting powerful beta irradiation-emitting radionuclides, to cancer cells. Certain isotopes can be conjugated to cancer cell binding antibodies in such a way that they can selectively bind to tumors and cause their regression. In this instance, internalization of these molecules into cells are unnecessary. The cross-fire effect is potent enough to destroy even large tumors and the side effects seem tolerable. Through the design and production of these new molecules we hope to not only devise urgently needed alternative cancer therapies, but to further our understanding of the intricacies of protein engineering.

Clinical Summary

Transplantation, cancer, leukemia, molecular therapeutics, gene therapy


PhD, Ohio State University
Major: Microbiology
MS, Ohio State University
Major: Microbiology
BS, Ohio State University
Major: Microbiology

Fellowships, Residencies, and Visiting Engagements

Research Associate,
University of Minnesota
National Research Service Award (NRSA) Postdoctoral Fellow,
National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Honors and Recognition

Angel Award, Randy Shaver Cancer Research Fund
Designated Lion Scholar - Lion Research Award
Distinguished Alumnae Award, Ohio State University
Pierce Targeted Therapy Award
Junior Faculty Award, American Cancer Society
Scholar Award, Leukemia Society of America
Hubert H. Humphrey Cancer Research Award
Pyrie Graduate Teaching Associate Award, Ohio State University

Professional Memberships

American Association of Immunologists
American Society of Hematology
American Association of Cancer Research - Advisory Committee



University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center, Department of Radiation Oncology, 554D Cancer Center Research Bldg
425 East River Rd
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Administrative Contact

Haley Comisky