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UT Health Cancer Center Hires Rare Blood Cancer Expert as Director

Xconomy Texas — 

San Antonio — The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has hired a new director for its UT Health Cancer Center: Ruben Mesa, a researcher who has lengthy experience testing treatments for rare blood cancers.

Mesa is joining the UT Health Cancer Center from the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center in Arizona, where he was deputy director. As director of the UT Health Cancer Center, Mesa said in a news release that the institution will work to make breakthroughs in cancer research, in part by working closely with the UT MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The two University of Texas research centers announced an agreement to share resources in November.

The UT Health Cancer Center, formerly known as the Cancer Therapy & Research Center, was most recently led by Ian Thompson, a urologic oncologist at the university who left the position last year.

Mesa has plenty of experience working on clinical trials for drugs that treat rare blood diseases, specifically a subset called myeloproliferative neoplasms, in which too many blood cells grow in the bone marrow, according to the National Cancer Institute. Mesa was co-lead investigator on clinical trials studying ruxolitinib, a drug that was developed by Wilmington, DE-based Incyte, which is used to treat myelofibrosis, a condition that affects the production of blood cells, causes bone marrow scarring, and can lead to a type of chronic leukemia, according to the Mayo Clinic. Incyte (NASDAQ: INCY) gained regulatory approval for ruxolitinib (Jakafi) to treat myelofibrosis with in late 2011 and to treat polycythemia vera, another bone marrow disorder, in 2014. The drug had $882 million in U.S. revenue in 2016, with another $110 million in royalties from outside the U.S.

Mesa wrote in an e-mail that he has also led Phase 3 trials for Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) and Seattle-based CTI Biopharma (NASDAQ: CTIC), which was formerly known as Cell Therapeutics, on drugs that also aimed to treat myelofibrosis. All three companies are using drugs that inhibit enzymes known as janus associated kinases, or JAKs, which are associated with the formation of blood cells, among other biological functions. Failures in their signaling pathways are associated with myeloproliferative neoplasms diseases, according to Incyte.