Molecules ‘Merlin’, Professor Shankar Balasubramanian and his Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute team are developing drugs that can switch off certain genes that cause cancer – slowing the growth of cancer cells.
Professor Balasubramanian is working with doctors to test these potential new drugs, bringing us closer to the next generation of cancer treatments.
The co-founder of Solexa – sold to Illumina for $600 million – and now Cambridge Epigenetix, Prof Balasubramanian looks to have identified another commercial winner in life sciences.
His research applies the principles of chemistry to provide new insights into molecular mechanisms that are of importance to the biology of cancer; his team are experts in how molecules fit together and work inside cells.
By combining this knowledge with sophisticated lab techniques, they believe ‘gene switch’ drugs could be an effective way to target tumours while avoiding damage to healthy cells – helping to reduce side effects.
The team also hope that it will be more difficult for the cancer cells to develop resistance to these highly targeted drugs.
Professor Balasubramanian told Business Weekly: “Our work stems from fundamental molecular studies on DNA structure and natural chemical modifications to DNA. This work involves the elucidation of mechanisms, molecular targets and intervention with small organic molecules.
“In principle, our approaches could apply very broadly across a range of cancers, as the strategies are fundamental to mechanisms that appear to be generally related to cancers.
“While the work is early stage we are working with local clinician-led groups to explore the potential to ultimately explore the therapeutic potential of our concepts.”
Prof Balasubramanian co-invented Solexa Sequencing, an ultrafast way to sequence DNA that exploits the fluorescence specific to each of the four base chemicals in DNA on a microchip system that can handle millions of DNA fragments at the same time. After several rounds of funding and investment Solexa was bought by Illumina for $600m.
Cambridge Epigenetix is a promising new venture that has launched TrueMethyl™ which brings unprecedented clarity to the analysis of DNA by providing quantitative, accurate and repeatable single-base resolution sequencing of the modified bases hydroxymethylcytosine (5-hmC) and methylcytosine (5-mC).
These are thought to play a role in gene expression, for the first time. Early studies indicate that these modifications may have distinct and important physiological functions.
See Business Weekly’s feature on the Cambridge cancer cluster and read about some of the people at the cutting edge of cancer research – http://bit.ly/T38SEo
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Professor Shankar Balasubramanian