On Nov. 17, Dr. Brian Lanman from Amgen Biotechnology came to virtually speak at Drew about how he and his team were able to develop the cancer drug Sotorasib that was recently FDA approved. Lanman was the recipient of Drew University’s “Heroes in Drug Discovery” award for discovering the first KRAS inhibitor for cancer treatment. The award is given by the RISE Fellows here at Drew, a group of retired scientists who now work at Drew to mentor students in their research.
Each year, RISE fellows meet to select the recipient of the award. Many spent their careers working in the drug discovery field themselves and continue to monitor important drugs that are being discovered.
Gullo facilitated the presentation and started the event by giving a brief introduction to Lanman. Lanman completed his undergraduate degree and PhD at Harvard University and went on to work at Amgen in Los Angeles, CA, where he was able to gather a team of biologists and chemists to work on the discovery of Sotorasib.
“We evaluate both the significance of the drug discovery on healthcare
and the challenges that had to be overcome in the discovery process,” RISE Fellow Dr. Vincent Gullo said. “We annually select the drug discovery we believe meets both criteria.”
70 participants joined the Zoom call on Thursday evening, mostly chemistry and biology majors, to listen to Lanman’s talk, and many students left the event feeling inspired.
“I thought it was pretty cool especially the part where they said how many people worked and their specialties they engage in,” said Aline Carla Kruger (‘23). “I want to go into synthetic chemistry so to see what my role would be and what I could do to help was pretty fun.”
Before going into detail about his work, Lanman provided a brief description of how drugs are typically synthesized–everything from synthesizing the perfect molecule to how it will be digested once it enters the body. He then gave a background on the targeted protein, KRAS, that is mutated in tumor cells of 14% of patients with lung and colon cancer. This protein has been considered “undruggable” for decades, however, Lanman and his team were able to successfully synthesize a compound which can covalently inhibit the protein.
Once the appropriate compound was made, Lanman discussed the challenges he faced in how to “optimize and balance the properties to turn a functional molecule into a drug.”
After years of extensive experimentation on mice with promising results, Sotorasib clinical trials on live patients began in 2018. Patients who received Sotorasib treatment demonstrated improvement after just six weeks and were able to survive another 12.5 months on average with this therapy. On May 28, 2021 Sotorasib was FDA approved for clinical use.
“I just think it’s really great that our students get to listen to and ask questions with someone who did such important, groundbreaking work,” said Dr. Adam Cassano, a biochemistry professor who offered extra credit to his students that attended the event. “To see how what they learn in their classes is actually applied and makes a difference out there in the real world.”