Jing Li, Ph.D. receives 2023 Kales Award in Oncology

Dr. Li honored for developing modeling tool guiding selection of HER2 inhibitors to treat, prevent brain metastases in HER2-positive breast cancer patients

Jing Li, Ph.D., member of the Molecular Therapeutics Research Program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute and professor in the Department of Oncology at Wayne State University School of Medicine, has won the 2023 Drs. Anthony and Joyce Danielski Kales Endowed Faculty Award for Innovative Cancer Research. Dr. Li received this award for her role as the principal investigator in a study that developed a physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PBPK) modeling approach to evaluate the central nervous system (CNS) pharmacokinetics and target engagement of small-molecule HER2 inhibitors.

Dr. Li’s research, “Mechanistic modeling of central nervous system pharmacokinetics and target engagement of HER2 tyrosine kinase inhibitors to inform treatment of breast cancer brain metastases,” was published in Clinical Cancer Research in August 2022. Co-authors include Jun Jiang, Xun Bao, Vineet Kumar, Stephen C. Alley, Scott Peterson, and Anthony J. Lee.

“On behalf of my collaborators and colleagues who contributed to this work, I want to thank the selection committee for recognizing the translational significance of our work in brain cancer drug development and therapy. It is a great honor to receive this award,” Dr. Li expressed.

HER2-positive breast cancer is associated with frequent and early brain metastases. Up to 50% of patients develop brain metastases during their disease, and patients with brain metastasis have a poorer prognosis. Effective systemic therapy for patients with brain metastases is limited and clinically challenging. Though small-molecule HER2 inhibitors are approved for treating metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, there is no consensus on the optimal inhibitor for the effective treatment of brain metastases in patients with HER2-positive breast cancer.

“Sufficient drug penetration into the brain and brain tumors to exert pharmacological activity is the prerequisite for intracranial activity and overall survival benefit in brain cancer patients. A better understanding of the pharmacokinetics of HER2 inhibitors in the human CNS is critical to the optimal use of these drugs,” said Dr. Li. 

“In our study, we developed an innovative mechanistic modeling approach that enables comparison of the CNS pharmacokinetics and target engagement of different small-molecule HER2 inhibitors in breast cancer patients. Our study shed important pharmacological insights into the clinical outcomes of these drugs and provided critical information to guide the selection of the most efficacious HER2 inhibitor for effective treatment and prevention of brain metastases in HER2-positive breast cancer patients,” explained Dr. Li.   

Read the published study here.

Dr. Li was honored for her research at a special seminar on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023, as part of the Karmanos Cancer Institute Seminar Series. During the conference, she presented her research specific to the publication and received a plaque honoring her achievements. Additional publications highlighting Dr. Li’s research are displayed at the Elliman Clinical Research Building on the School of Medicine’s campus and the Hudson-Webber Cancer Research Center on the Karmanos campus.

The Kales Award in Oncology was created in 2012 at the WSU School of Medicine to recognize exemplary and innovative cancer research. Drs. Anthony and Joyce Danielski Kales established the award in memory of their brother and brother-in-law, Nicholas Kales, who died from lung cancer. The award is given to a WSU faculty member who is also a Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute researcher. Selection is based on a comprehensive review of published articles within the previous year.