Dirk Spitzer, PhD

Assistant Professor

Washington University in St. Louis (WU)

My main research area is the development of targeted cancer therapeutics, e.g. pancreatic and ovarian cancer. Two drug classes are the focus of this work and act on complementing apoptosis pathways, the extrinsic and the intrinsic death pathways. The first drug class (biologic) represents an improved version of the TNF super family member TRAIL, a native tumor surveillance cytokine, genetically engineered into the stabilized drug platform, TR3. Tumor targeting of soluble TR3 substantially increases its bioactivity and is achieved via attachment to cancer-specific surface markers such as mesothelin and CA125. The other drug class (small molecule) has high affinity to the cancer-specific sigma-2 receptor. The corresponding ligands are harnessed as vehicles to deliver drug cargos (peptidomimetics) selectively into the cancer cells to augment the baseline killing capacity of the parental molecules. The ultimate goal is to evaluate the most promising drug candidates in human clinical trials alone, in combination with each other and standard chemotherapy.