James Men/Contributing Photographer Graduate student Debolina Ray is working with Dr. Susannah Gal on cancer research. Pharmaceutical company Sunshine BioPharma, Inc. is partnering with BU and the SUNY Research Foundation to develop a cancer drug starting this spring semester.

Binghamton University professors and a handful of graduate students are contributing to cancer research by aiding pharmaceutical company Sunshine BioPharma in clinical trial testing of the drug Adva-27a.

The Research Foundation of the State University of New York, acting on behalf of BU, entered into an agreement on Monday with Sunshine BioPharma that would span three years with a one-year renewal option.

Sunshine BioPharma claims that Adva-27a is a stronger and more stable version of the drug Etoposide, which is used to treat breast and prostate cancer, and they hope to prove this through the research they will be doing in conjunction with BU.

According to Susannah Gal, an associate professor and chair of the biological sciences department who is heading the research, Steven Slilaty, the president and CEO of Sunshine BioPharma, Inc., was looking to do more research in the United States from the company’s headquarters in Quebec. Slilaty looked at Binghamton first due to family connections in the area.

Sunshine BioPharma initially contacted the Empire State Development Department in 2007, which is located in Downtown Binghamton on Hawely Street. This fall, the department contacted Terry Kane, the state development officer at the BU Research foundation.

Kane contacted Gal after looking at the biology department on BU’s website, which indicated her familiarity with cancer research. Gal is a biology professor who has been instructing students in her cancer research course at BU.

Sunshine BioPharma and the University began collaboration in October in developing a contract, and discussions about the actual procedure took place in the winter.

“This is the first time I’m aware of Binghamton working with a pharmaceutical company on cancer research,” Gal said.

The company hopes that if the Adva-27a drug does not carry more toxic side effects than the current drug on the market — as it is claimed to be more potent — then it can be used in a smaller dosage than the current prescription and lessen the side-effects of cancer drugs, which can include everything from loss of hair and listlessness to the loss of feeling in the toes and feet.

Binghamton will participate in the first three phases of the study.

Phase one will take place on campus, where the team will research the drug and how it affects cells in a laboratory environment in an effort to understand the stability of the drug, which is related to the drug’s toxicity.

Animal testing will take place during phase two, which will be happening off campus with a different company that has more adequate facilities for holding the requisite number of animals, according to Gal.

In phase three, if the drug is seen as not harmful to the animals tested, clinical trials will take place with the cooperation of hospitals and clinics, whose patients will be administered the drug and then observed to determine how they are affected.

Sunshine BioPharma has patent pending status on the drug.

Professor Gal has had first-hand experience with cancer. Gal said her experience with breast cancer aided her research because she was able to note side effects that she had from her medication.

“I remember while I was getting the drug, noticing the side effects and wondering about the biology,” Gal said.

Professor Gal did not keep her cancer a secret from her students.

“Last spring I taught a cancer biology class. They met my surgeon and people from my support group,” Gal said.

Matt Balmer, a doctoral student who was in Gal’s spring 2010 cancer research course and is currently assisting her in the Adva-27a project, said that the class was informative.

“She’s the type of person you never know,” Balmer said. “Some people with the disease ooze the need for sympathy. She’s the type of person who doesn’t use what she’s been through to define who she is.”

Gal said that she now tries to separate her personal life from her research. She added that she is not doing research on this drug because she was a cancer patient, but because it is part of her professional duty and she wants to help people.

The total cost of the project will range from three to five million dollars, some of which will come from BU as well as from Sunshine BioPharma. In addition, Gal is attempting to secure a grant from the National Cancer Institute.

BU will not receive any royalties because no new technologies will be created through this project. The team is only assisting in the development and testing of Adva-27a. According to Gal, BU will not be developing the drug, but testing its efficacy.

Gal suggested that as the research progresses, other upstate schools, such as Syracuse University, may also become involved.