The Department would like to recognize Zibo Li, PhD, for being funded for two significant investigations in late 2018. In October 2018, Dr. Li entered a sponsored two-year research agreement (renewable $186.6K+/year) with OncoTrap Inc., to conduct a study entitled, “Evaluation of OncoTrap’s lead drugs in tumor bearing mouse model.”  In December 2018, Li was awarded National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 funding (renewable $404K+/year) as institutional P.I. of a five-year investigative study (12/07/2018 – 11/30/2023) entitled, “Development of IDO PET agents for immunotherapy.”

Dr. Li’s agreement with OncoTrap establishes a one-year, in vivo drug evaluation platform (Oct 2018-Oct 2019) to examine lead levels in the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics (PK/PD), toxicities, immunogenicity and pharmacological properties of OncoTrap’s pharmaceuticals. In collaboration with Dr. Rihe Liu from UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, two studies — tumor growth inhibition (tumor-bearing mice) and toxicity (healthy mice) – will be performed in pancreatic cancer models. Both approaches will employ PET, fluorescence and bioluminescence imaging in the proposed study. Their results may be useful in future investigations using imaging to better understand PK/PD of lead agents and the study of treatment efficacy during therapy.

Li’s R01-funded study is a unique UNC basic scientist and physician (Dr. Stergios Moschos – Department of Medicine) collaboration seeking to understand and improve low response rates of checkpoint immunotherapy in solid tumor malignancy treatment. In preclinical studies, immune cell-activating indoleamine2,3-dioxygenase (IDO1) activity will be monitored by PET to study its change during the checkpoint inhibition. The obtained result will be integrated with the on-going clinical trial at UNC that aims to identify a clinically translatable pathway for physicians to select patients who would likely respond to novel checkpoint immunotherapy. Applied successfully, this study’s results will allow physicians to create using solo or combined inhibitor corresponding treatment plans for checkpoint immunotherapy.

Dr. Li stated: “These studies are excellent examples demonstrating the power of molecular imaging in current preclinical and clinical research experiments. Their ultimate goal is to achieve personalized medicine in patient care, which is one of the focus areas in UNC’s Radiochemistry & Cyclotron program.”