Late Fall 2022
By Kathy Clute
Photography by Sam Ogden, Bryce Vickmark
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) has awarded Dana-Farber $2,811,397 to establish a Center for Emergent Drug Targets (CEDT), which will provide a collaborative environment to streamline and accelerate the earliest stages of drug discovery.
Progress during these initial phases is often stifled by a lack of synthetic small molecules that can be used to manipulate or interfere with the function of a protein relevant to cancer development—a “protein target”—or even basic insight to confirm that a protein target is amenable to traditional small molecule therapies. The new center will provide chemical tools and other technologies that academic and industry researchers can use to address these knowledge gaps.
The MLSC is a quasi-public agency that invests in the growth and development of the life sciences sector in Massachusetts. Since it was created in 2007, MLSC has strategically deployed more than $700 million in grants, loans, and other investments to foster the development of new therapies and scientific advances.
“The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center’s visionary support means that advances in basic science will be more quickly translated into new cancer therapies,” said Dana-Farber President and CEO Laurie H. Glimcher, MD, the Richard and Susan Smith Professor of Medicine. “It will make a tremendous difference in what we can achieve to benefit patients in Boston and beyond.”
Researchers Sara Buhrlage, PhD, and Jarrod Marto, PhD, who have collaborated extensively in the study of a protein family of emergent drug targets known as deubiquitinating enzymes, will lead the CEDT, which is expected to open early next year. Buhrlage and Marto want to position the center to invert the typical pharmaceutical development paradigm by focusing on new small molecules as well as early stage protein targets that have not yet been “de-risked,” or shown conclusively to have some potential against cancer.
“We are making it possible for established pharma and biotech companies to increase their efficiencies in early stage drug discoveries and expand their Massachusetts workforce around the most promising programs.”Kenneth Turner, Massachusetts Life Sciences Center
“As we’ve seen in our own work,” noted Buhrlage, “tools and technologies made available through the CEDT will enable our partners to streamline go/no-go decisions early in their pipeline and allow them to focus resources on the most promising targets and compounds.”
Researchers using the CEDT will have access to state-of-the-art equipment and libraries of small molecules housed at Dana-Farber. “A molecule out of these libraries that binds to a protein target of interest is then a good candidate for further development as a potential therapeutic drug,” said Marto. “Similarly, we can use technologies in the center to screen our partners’ compounds to identify their protein targets in cancer cells.”
The CEDT will also help train future scientists by providing hands-on experience for trainees in academic labs as well as other outreach activities to encourage students from across the state to consider a career in the life sciences industry.
“Commercial drug discovery is an intensive, high-risk endeavor that requires junior and senior scientists with a multitude of specialized research skills,” said Kenneth Turner, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. “With this investment in the CEDT, we are making it possible for established pharma and biotech companies to mitigate risk, particularly in the earliest stages of developing new therapeutics. They will be able to expand their Massachusetts workforce around the most promising programs, while startups can improve their chances of success.”