Fred Hutchinson begins 'Project Violet'

Initiative to solicit crowdfunding capital to speed drug discovery

Register for free to listen to this article
Listen with Speechify
SEATTLE—The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center islooking to join the crowdfunding trend with the initiation of Project Violet, aprogram inspired by a young girl named Violet, who died at age 11 due to aninoperable brainstem tumor.
The program seeks to involve the community in the drugdiscovery process by raising funds through crowdfunding in order to develop anew class of anti-cancer compounds derived from organisms in nature such asflowers or scorpions. These compounds, known was optides, are capable ofattacking and destroying cancerous cells while healthy cells remain unharmed,which would offer an improvement over current methods of chemotherapy, whichoften destroy healthy cells along with tumor cells. It is hoped that thesecompounds can be developed into treatments that kill cancer while avoidingstandard chemotherapies' toxic side effects, such as nausea and hair loss.
Jim Olson, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric brain cancer specialistwho works in the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutchinson and alsopractices at Seattle Children's, is the driving force behind the project. Olsonwas Violet's doctor. Prior to Violet's death in 2012, she and her familyrequested a rapid autopsy to allow as much as possible to be learned from herbrain tumor and enable the creation of important research tools.
"That spirit of generosity led to the most excitingscientific project I've worked on in my life. It was only fitting that it benamed after Violet," Olson said in a press release. "I knew that we were goingto do this in her spirit, memory and honor."
Citizen scientists can be a part of the project by helpingthe scientists build their candidate drug libraries with the 'adoption' of adrug candidate for $100. The public can choose from one of sixorganisms—violet, scorpion, locust, sunflower, spider or human—and will alsoreceive an image of the drug molecule. Scientists at Fred Hutchinson will testthe candidates for effective properties, and if the chosen drug candidate failsat any point, the citizen scientist can replace it with a new one. The mostpromising candidates will advance to additional testing, with the ultimate goalof moving into human clinical trials.
Project Violet is based on Olson's invention of Tumor Paint,a molecule derived from scorpion venom that can light up cancer cells tovisually distinguish them from normal healthy cells, making it easier to ensureall cancerous tissue is excised during surgery.
Olson and his colleagues have taken this further, creating"optimized peptides," or "optides." This new class of drugs consists of tinymolecules that can be programmed to bind only to and disable specific types ofcancer cells. In addition, optides can be attached to chemotherapy drugs inorder to deliver them more precisely to tumor and limit the destruction of healthy cells. Olson and colleagues are working to develop optides for avariety of treatment-resistant malignancies, including brain cancer, melanoma,breast cancer and tumors of the neck and throat. Fred Hutchinson recently began a collaboration with Blaze Bioscience Inc. to support the former's optide discovery program.

"We were impressed that scorpions have evolved amazingdrugs, which led us to begin looking deeply into the drugs produced by otherplants and animals. For example, sunflower petals are not eaten by bugs becausethey make a compound that protects them from hungry insects," Olson noted in apress release. "Likewise, we found exquisite examples of drugs made bypotatoes, spiders, cone snails, sea slugs and, yes, violets."
Olson noted that they have developed a new optide productionsystem that can quickly synthesize thousands of optide variants, which can thenbe evaluated for therapeutic potential. They are now capable of making "12,000a month, and are ramping up beyond that," according to Olson.
"Optides offer unprecedented accuracy – an entirely newclass of drugs that are far less toxic, far more effective and flexible enoughto be used in a wide range of applications," he added.
SOURCE: Fred Hutchinson press release

Subscribe to Newsletter
Subscribe to our eNewsletters

Stay connected with all of the latest from Drug Discovery News.

March 2024 Issue Front Cover

Latest Issue  

• Volume 20 • Issue 2 • March 2024

March 2024

March 2024 Issue