Masonic Cancer Center Researchers Develop New Drug to Target, Destroy Pancreatic Cancer Cells

All, many of you have commented on this post seeking an update for human trials of Minnelide. As we mentioned previously, we’re working with the FDA and regulatory bodies on the processes of human trials and we’re on pace to begin those trials later this year. We will update the public as soon as we have a solid timeframe and enrollment details.”

-Justin Paquette, Academic Health Center Office of Communications

Update 1/3/13:

“Currently, our application to begin Minnelide clinical trials is under review by the FDA, and we continue to provide all materials and information requested to support that review. Our research team is hopeful approval will be granted, allowing us to move ahead with Minnelide trials in the late spring or early summer of 2013. As we advance through the FDA approval process, we will continue to keep interested parties updated.” – Edward Greeno, M.D., medical director of the Hematology/Oncology clinic at the University of Minnesota. Greeno will be the principle investigator for the phase I trial of Minnelide.

Original text:

A new drug created at the University of Minnesota may hold the answer to defeating pancreatic cancer, according to results published today in the prestigious journal Science Translational Medicine.

The study is based on successful outcomes in a mouse model – results researchers hope to carry over to human patients when the drug potentially begins human trials sometime in 2013.

The drug, Minnelide, is a type of injectable chemotherapy designed to target tumor cells.  The drug works by inhibiting a heat shock protein, HSP 70, which has been proven to aid the growth of tumor cells.  By stopping HSP 70 from working, Minnelide disperses the cells integral to the tumor’s growth and the cancer disintegrates.

The drug is based on patented technology designed in the Masonic Cancer Center labs of Ashok Saluja, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of research in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Department of Surgery,  Selwyn Vickers, M.D., chairman of the Department of Surgery, and Gunda Georg, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development in the College of Pharmacy. Bruce Blazar, M.D., director of the Center for Translational Medicine, also partnered on this project.

Pancreatic cancer is the most lethal of all cancers. This year alone, more than 44,000 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease and the median survival time following a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is just six months.

“A diagnosis of pancreatic cancer is incredibly grim. There is no good way to treat or cure this particular type of cancer,” said Saluja, who holds the Eugene C. and Gail V. Sit Chair in Pancreatic and Gastrointestinal Cancer Research, “and the best options currently available offer just six weeks of added survival. It is far from tackling the real problem which is that pancreatic cancer tumor cells make survival proteins, rendering them increasingly difficult to defeat.”

In 2007, Saluja and his collaborators discovered pancreatic cancer cells have too much HSP 70, which protects cells from dying. Because of this excess protein, pancreatic cancer cells are difficult to target with drugs, meaning the logical next step in fighting the cancer was to determine how to inhibit HSP 70 in these tumor cells.

Saluja found that triptolide, a compound derived from plants in China, worked to halt the development of HSP 70 in tumor cells, but because triptolide is not water soluble, it was still difficult to administer to patients. The Institute for Therapeutics Discovery and Development at the University of Minnesota, in collaboration with the Saluja lab, worked to make triptolide water soluble. They named their drug Minnelide as a nod to the compound from which it was derived, triptolide, and its discovery location, the University of Minnesota.

The University of Minnesota holds the patent on the modifying factors that create Minnelide from triptolide. It has been licensed to Minneamrita Therapeutics LLC for production.

Funding for this research was provided by NIH grants R01CA124723 and R01 CA170496, as well as the Katherine and Robert Goodale Foundation and the Hirshberg Foundation.


The University of Minnesota Medical School, with its two campuses in the Twin Cities and Duluth, is a leading educator of the next generation of physicians. Our graduates and the school’s 3,800 faculty physicians and scientists advance patient care, discover biomedical research breakthroughs with more than $180 million in sponsored research annually, and enhance health through world-class patient care for the state of Minnesota and beyond. Visit to learn more.

Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota is part of the University’s Academic Health Center. It is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center. For more information about the Masonic Cancer Center, visit or call 612-624-2620.