Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

Last week things were rather quiet on the blogging front due to slight hiatus while recovering from the recent ECCO meeting in Stockholm and taking a few days off to visit the MD Anderson Cancer Center Science Park in Smithville, Austin. It’s funny, but until I began interacting with one of the PhD students there, Angela Alexander, via Twitter last year, I had no idea the place existed, yet it has been around for 50 years or so!

Austin, Texas

I was invited by the graduate student program (thank you, Alexsandra) to give a talk on ‘alternative science careers’ since after all, not all scientists actually stay in research. My talk was entitled, “On Science, Blogging and Drug development.”

A PhD can be very useful in both the Pharma/Biotech industry and also as a consultant. Biochemistry is particularly handy in oncology new product development, for example.

It has to be said, I had an absolutely fabulous time in Austin from dinner with the students, an enjoyable ride to and from the facility from Lady Bird lake (thanks, Matt!) to a day spent surrounded by a lot of smart and clever people working in basic research on carcinogenesis. The students there, whether doing a PhD or Post Doc, were very impressive indeed.

The fun part for me also included a lovely tour of the facilities in the morning (thanks Alessandra), while in the afternoon there was a superb opportunity to hear what the students were working on as the labs cycled round in groups. Some made presentations of their work, while others talked more informally about what they were working on. Either way, I was engaged by their enthusiasm and dedication. Topics were highly varied and some examples included:

  • Cellular and molecular mechanisms of carcinogenesis
  • Arginine methylation and PRMT
  • DNA damage and repair
  • Chromatin and epigenetics
  • Cancer stem cells
  • miRNA

I also received a delightful informal tour of one of the labs, which was like the Taj Mahal compared to some of the cramped and ancient research spaces I’ve seen elsewhere in the country. It’s amazing to see the woodlands through the big windows with animals running wild outside. It would be hard not to be inspired working here, either from the perspective of the environment, or the sparkling people working there. MDACC have built a very close knit community, which is good to see, especially given that several sadly lost their homes with the recent forest fires in Bastrop. The sense of support within the group was palpable.

There is an ongoing seminar series that includes a wealth internal and external speakers on various science topics associated with basic research – I was particularly excited to see that Arul Chinnaiyan (U Michigan) is speaking next May, for example. Mind you, had I realised beforehand so many distinguished researchers were on the program I might have got cold feet!

It’s important to support not only translational, but also basic research, if we are to develop better targeted drugs in the future. Let’s not forget that the story of the Philadelphia Chromosome, CML and Gleevec took 40 years and several Lasker Awards and Nobel Prizes to go full circle and connect the dots that ultimately made a difference to the lives of patients. Who knows what will happen in the next 40 years as scientists begin to take advantage of the findings from other basic research to piece together the next big puzzle and find the next generation of targeted therapies?

Without solid basic research we won’t even have a target to aim for.

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