November 2011

'Developing' drugs

If only it were that easy 

 

Meetings_drugsIn the context of the early embryo or a growing child, the term “development” implies a set of stereotyped transitions from one well-defined stage to another until adulthood is achieved. In this context, the term “drug development” is an oxymoron, as most drug-discovery projects never reach maturity. This is especially true for complex diseases such as cancer, as the diversity of disease mechanisms can make development of effective therapies challenging. Despite these hurdles, exciting progress is being made. In this symposium, we explore some recent advances in the development of cancer therapies. The sessions will discuss the full developmental spectrum of drug-discovery projects -- from new technologies for target discovery to compounds making their ways into the clinic.

Killing cancer cells 

The first session, “Drug Development and Apoptosis: Linking Tumor Regression to Cell Death,” will feature Junying Yuan (Harvard Medical School), who will describe recent work in developing small-molecule inhibitors targeting autophagy, an important catabolic mechanism that mediates the turnover of misfolded proteins and damaged intracellular organelles. The inhibitors have revealed an important tumor-suppressor mechanism that is regulated by autophagy and the possibility of inhibiting autophagy to treat cancer.

The BCL-2 family of apoptotic proteins regulates the critical balance between cellular life and death. Loren Walensky (Dana Farber Cancer Institute) will discuss his laboratory’s progress in dissecting the BCL-2 family interaction network using a novel pharmacological strategy, stabilized alpha-Helices of BCL-2 domains. 

Vishva Dixit (Genentech) will discuss the state of drug development in apoptosis with a focus on IAP and BCL-2 inhibitors. He also will discuss recent progress on the molecular basis of necrosis. While the players that mediate apoptosis are well defined, little is known about what mediates necrosis, except for the recent dramatic discovery of the involvement of the RIP3 kinase.

Targeting each person’s cancer 

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