For our January 2015 Top Doctors issue, we spoke with Nilabh “Neil” Chaudhary, Ph.D., a biochemist and research advisor at bioLOGIC in Covington about developing a drug that targets cells in brain tumors:
“I was born in Bihar, India, in a rural and still-underdeveloped region of the country. My parents left India in the mid-1960s to study in the UK and Canada, leaving me and my siblings in the care of my grandparents. In 1968, we were put on a plane to join our parents in Windsor, Ontario. We didn’t speak any English, we had no coats, gloves, or hats, and we landed in Canada in December. We adapted fast.
As children our job was to study. My family moved to London, Ontario, where I went to school and college, majoring in biochemistry. A cancer research award from the Damon Runyon Foundation enabled me to train at The Rockefeller University with Günter Blobel, winner of the Nobel Prize for his fundamental discoveries in cell biology.
The living cell is small, yet amazingly complex. We can build skyscrapers, construct towns, fly to the moon, but we can’t create, from scratch, a single living cell. Billions of cells in our bodies work together to keep us healthy and disease-free. Unfortunately, sometimes, a few cells become damaged and start to divide uncontrollably, becoming cancerous. Cancer cells survive by evading the body’s surveillance system. Because cancer is a major killer worldwide, finding drugs to search and destroy the deadly cells is a central aim of cancer researchers.
A company I advise, Bexion Pharmaceuticals, located at the biotech incubator bioLOGIC in Covington, is developing a drug to target and kill brain tumor cells using a very clever mechanism. The technology, based on research from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, uses protein-lipid formulations like homing devices, finding patches of “bad skin” that occur on the surface of cancer cells and using them as entry points to kill the cancer cell. Because Bexion’s approach for finding cancer cells is so innovative, the National Cancer Institute is supporting the company’s research through a $2.9 million grant.
In over two decades in the biotech industry, I have had the privilege to collaborate with many teams of talented researchers, to invent and develop important new products for treating deadly diseases. Pharmaceutical research is a long, costly, and uncertain process because the risk of failure is high. It takes hundreds of millions of dollars and a decade or more of effort to advance a drug concept from discovery and preclinical research stages through clinical trials and eventual FDA approval.
Professor Blobel’s lab was a dynamic place to learn cell biology. His essential career advice was: ‘Do important things.’ That’s what I’ve tried to do. Important things.” —as told to Brad Fitzpatrick