Darren Carpizo, MD, PhD

Darren Carpizo, MD, PhD

Many cancer drug discoveries derived from academic research never make it to commercial development and fall prey to the valley of death. Our BCRF funding has served as a bridge over this valley in providing key funding in the early development phase of our program. The potential pool of breast cancer patients that would benefit from this new targeted therapy is large.

Associate Professor of Surgery
Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Areas of Focus:  Tumor Biology

Co-Investigator: Shridar Ganesan, MD, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey



To identify novel anti-cancer drugs for aggressive breast cancers, such as triple negative and BRCA-driven breast cancers.


Many cancers develop mutations in a tumor suppressor gene called TP53. In its normal form, TP53 prevents cancer formation by forcing cells with unrepairable DNA damage to self-destruct, thereby preventing the cell from dividing and passing the damaged DNA to new cells. When TP53 becomes mutated, this protection goes away allowing these cells to divide and form tumors. Drs. Carpizo and Ganesan have developed a class of drugs called zinc metallochaperones (ZMCs) that can restore the normal activity of mutated TP53. Their work may lead to new, targeted approaches for very aggressive breast cancers.

What’s next:

The team continues to conduct laboratory tests of ZMCs. This year they will test it in combination with other therapies including chemotherapy and radiation, which are standard treatment for patients with TNBC.

People who have inherited mutations in the BRCA gene have a high risk of developing breast cancer. Most BRCA breast cancers tend to be of the triple negative (TNBC) subtype, which is particularly aggressive and lacks approved targeted therapies. Drs. Carpizo and Ganesan have identified a new class of anti-cancer drugs called zinc metallochaperones (ZMCs) that target tumors with mutations in TP53, a potent suppressor of tumor growth, and are currently testing its efficacy in laboratory studies

Full Research Summary

Research area: Identifying new targeted therapies for very aggressive breast cancers.

Impact: New therapies are urgently needed for patients with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), which tends to grow faster than other subtypes of the disease and has a poorer prognosis. While some patients with TNBC may benefit from the new PARP inhibitors or immunotherapies, most patients will receive standard chemotherapy and radiations. Drs. Carpizo and Ganesan are focused on the gene TP53, which is often mutated in TNBC as well as in BRCA1 cancers. They have identified a new class of anti-cancer drugs called zinc metallochaperones (ZMCs) that target tumors with mutations in TP53. If proven effective, this could provide another option for patients with aggressive breast cancers.

Current investigation: The team has been conducting laboratory studies to test ZMC inhibitors in combination with other therapies in models of TNBC and BRCA-driven breast cancer.

What they’ve learned so far: Drs. Carpizo and Ganesan found that ZMCs are particularly effective in tumors with BRCA1 mutations both alone and in combination with PARP inhibitors. They also discovered that these drugs can be made more effective by adding zinc to the formulation, and they now have novel zinc-loaded compounds that can potentially be brought to the clinic. In addition, they recently found a new class of ZMCs that are synergistic with chemotherapy and radiation.

What’s next: The team will test both the zinc-loaded compounds and synergistic ZMCs in laboratory models of breast cancer with BRCA1 mutations.


Darren Carpizo, MD, PhD, is a surgical oncologist specializing in the management of hepato-biliary and pancreatic cancers. Seventy-five percent of his time is devoted to laboratory research in the area of Developmental Therapeutics in both the basic and translational science arenas. Dr. Carpizo’s laboratory recently made a significant contribution to the field of p53 targeted drug development by identifying a lead compound that reactivates mutant p53. He is currently leading a multi-disciplinary group of investigators studying the mechanism of the mutant p53 reactivating drug which including biochemists, structural biologists and medicinal chemists. He is also leading a translational clinical trial to understand the mechanism of action of Hedgehog inhibitors in patients with surgically resectable pancreatic cancer.