UAMS Cancer Researcher Awarded $1.27 Million Grant

The funding will support the development of treatment options for leukemia patients.

UAMS Researcher Hong-yu Li
Photo courtesy: University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Hong-yu Li, Ph.D., a researcher with the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, has received a five-year, $1.27 grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute. The funding will be used to work toward developing treatment options for acute myeloid leukemia patients, according to a press release.

Li, a professor with the College of Pharmacy in the Pharmaceutics Department, leads the Developmental Therapeutics research program at the institute. His research focuses on treatment involving cancer of the brain, breast, stomach and intestines, head and neck, and skin as well as leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

“I am so pleased that Dr. Li’s research is being recognized and supported in this way by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute,” said Dr. Michael Birrer, director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. “The results of his work, made possible by this grant, could be life-altering for some of our acute myeloid leukemia patients.”

The grant is in support of the study, Development of Potent, Selective, Non-Myelotoxic FLT3 Inhibitors that Retain Efficacy Against Common Mechanisms of Resistance, with Li serving as a principal investigator.

This is a multiple principal investigator project working with Neil Shah, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of California at San Francisco and John Kuriyan, Ph.D., from the University of California at Berkeley. The project was funded from NCI for $3.3 million with $1.27 million for Li’s lab at UAMS.

Li’s lab will further optimize experimental drugs by using tissue samples from acute myeloid leukemia patients with the hope of improving the effectiveness of the two existing drug therapies.

“This research is important to the public health because acute myeloid leukemia has a major impact on our society in the patient’s suffering and shortened life and the financial burdens it creates,” Li said.

In 2018, there were an estimated 66,988 people living with acute myeloid leukemia in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute

Despite recent advances in the development of drugs to treat it, Li said results from clinical trials show that few acute myeloid leukemia patients are cured and that most of them succumb to the disease, typically within two years of being diagnosed.

“At the end of our research, we will likely have two potential treatment options that will hold significant promise for effectively preventing and treating the two most common mechanisms of resistance to potent FLT3 inhibitor therapy,” Li said. “This is expected to block or prevent disease relapse and substantially improve outcomes in some acute myeloid leukemia patients.”

Li currently holds another five-year NIH grant, which concludes in August, for his work as a principal investigator on Selective RET Kinase and Its Mutant Inhibitors for the Treatment of Medullary Thyroid Cancer.