Philadelphia – Day 3 of the AACR-NCI-EORTC Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics meeting continues to deliver on high quality talks with excellent data to discuss and parse.
Dr Jay Bradner (NIBR) at #Targets17
The session on epigenetics and transcription factors is always one of my favourites and this year didn’t disappoint.
There were also sessions on imaging, non-mutated genes, the tumour microenvironment and of course, a long poster session to browse. Thankfully the poster halls weren’t as mobbed as they were at ASCO earlier in the year, but they were still pretty busy and well attended.
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Molecular biology was a hot new topic back in its infancy in the late 1980’s just as I was finishing my doctorate – cue moment of realising you’ve missed a big wave before it really even started!
Springtime in DC
These days scientists now delve in the realm of deeper molecular biology and go much further than mere genes… it’s all about transcription factors, super enhancers, chromatin complexes, bromodomains, and even chromodomains. In the past, many of these drivers were often considered ‘undruggable’ – think MYC or RAS, for example.
The world of molecular biology is rapidly changing as researchers understand pathways and processes associated with carcinogenesis better, thereby enabling new approaches to evolve and with it, valid new targets for therapeutic intervention.
This field is always one of my favourite ones to cover at AACR, where we not only learn about exciting new research from investigators, but also up and coming young biotech companies that are doing good work who deserve to be highlighted.
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We have written about small biotechs and big pharma a lot on this blog, particularly when they have exciting new developments in their pipeline to review and consider. Increasingly, we have also begun to look at the early phase companies because often, that is where some fresh ideas and approaches are being developed and tested.
They’re also not beholden to the norm in terms of thinking that’s non-linear and many are academic start-ups that began life as thought leaders doing their own research and eventually VCs get interested, enabling financing to be raised. The downside of this for some of our readers is that they’re usually not investable as a private company (sorry about that), but we have a broad church here on BSB and instead these small companies attract the interest of enlightened pharma companies who want to license early compounds in areas they are interested in or gain knowledge about a new field of research before buying elsewhere. In other cases, the approach pays off in clinical trials and we see the IPOs emerge from companies such as Juno Therapeutics.
One company that neatly fits this bill is Syros Pharmaceuticals, an academic spin-off from the Whitehead Institute of MIT and Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston based on the pioneering work of Drs Richard Young, Jay Bradner and Nathanael Gray.
Regular readers will remember our original article their the scientific work on gene transcription factors at AACR last year, which included a fascinating interview with Dr Young. That was probably one of my favourite interviews of 2014 – I was inspired!
It’s now time to look at the company and entertain some strategic thinking about where they’re coming from and where they’re going with clinical development. The CEO, Dr Nancy Simonian, kindly agreed to an interview and be put in the ‘hot seat,’ so to speak.
This screenshot from the Syros website sums up their philosophy: Better medicines through gene control.
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