NIH Awards $1.1M Grant to Mitchell Cancer Institute

The National Institute of Health (“NIH”) in Washington, D.C. has announced a grant of $1.1M to support Dr. Lewis J. Pannell’s work on an early stage screening test for ovarian cancer at the Mitchell Cancer Institute (“MCI”) and the University of South Alabama. Dr. Pannell is a professor of Oncologic Sciences, as well as head of the Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at MCI. Dr. Pannell previously worked for over 20 years as a senior investigator at NIH specializing in proteomics and biomarker research.

Currently, there is no accurate and effective screening test for ovarian cancer. Dr. Pannell explained that “because there are few, if any, clear early symptoms, ovarian cancer is not detected until it has already spread. Many women die from ovarian cancer for one simple reason: they are diagnosed too late to be saved. An early stage screening test would potentially save thousands of lives every year. Women would also be spared the rigorous treatment required after the cancer has spread and our health care system would save hundreds of millions of dollars each year by avoiding the cost of later stage treatment.”

Dr. Pannell is working with fellow inventors Dr. Michael Finan and Dr. Rodney Rocconi to develop this screening test. This technology was licensed by Swift Biotechnology, whose development plan for this invention was one of the winners in the 2010 Alabama Launchpad business competition. Swift’s President, Dr. Michael Chambers, explained, “This grant is a tremendous honor for Dr. Pannell, USA and the entire MCI team. NIH grant applications are rigorously examined through a two-step peer review process manned by the leaders in their respective fields. By law, only those projects with the most promise, creativity and sound science receive these grants.”

“There is no existing method of screening for ovarian cancer that is effective in reducing deaths,” said Dr. Virginia A. Moyer, the chairwoman of an expert panel, the United States Preventive Services Task Force. Experts have typically counseled against tests using blood samples or ultrasound as inaccurate because of the high number of false positives when screening the general population. One of the distinctive aspects of the technology funded by this NIH grant is the use of samples from the area where the cancer begins to develop, similar to those taken with a PAP smear. As a result, the inventors are hopeful that it will be more effective as a screen for the general population or for segments of the population considered at high risk for the disease.

This is the second significant grant awarded to this technology. Earlier this year the Laura Crandall Brown Foundation awarded its annual ovarian research grant to support Dr. Rod Rocconi’s research in a related area of development of the screening test.