Alumnus Dr. Randall Lanier spoke about his experiences in drug development as the chief science officer of Chimerix on May 28 at the Department of Cell Systems & Anatomy seminar.
“Drug discovery is resource intensive in terms of time, human power, and money. You may go through this whole process only a couple times in your career,” he said.
After graduating with his Ph.D. in Cellular and Structural Biology from UT Health San Antonio, he found a position at Burroughs Wellcome working on enantioselective synthesis of FTC (a nucleoside antiviral for HIV) using pig liver esterase (PLE). A year later, he joined Marty St. Clair (discoverer of HIV activity of AZT) and embarked on about 15 years of HIV research at Burroughs Wellcome and then Glaxo lineage companies, focusing on nucleosides and resistance (HIV). In 2007, he joined Chimerix, a small biotech company based in Durham, North Carolina.
As the chief science officer at Chimerix, Dr. Lanier meets with teams of scientists, clinicians and business people to fund and develop promising drugs. He explained that there are many steps that a company takes before launching into the drug discovery process but one of the most important is long-term relevance.
“What’s so hard about this process is that it takes 10 to 15 years to develop a drug so you really have to think if this is something that will still be relevant in 10 to 15 years,” he said.
Other considerations include the severity and number of patients affected by the disease, the commercial viability of the drug, and the probability of its success.
Dr. Lanier spoke about his experience working with pushing two drugs through—one called Brincidofovir for smallpox and another for Novovirus.
“A lot of people ask why we are developing a drug for smallpox when it has been eradicated but the big worry is synthetic biology. It wouldn’t be that difficult to create a resistant Variola virus de novoso we are doing this mainly to protect the country from a bioterror threat,” he said.
He said that one of the challenges with Brincidofovir was that they couldn’t do smallpox clinical trials with humans, so they had to look at other options.
“We were told to look at primate models initially but after several trials with macaques, it turns out that the pharmacokinetics of this particular molecule in humans is more similar to rabbits and mice than macaques.”
His second project was on Norovirus which affects millions of Americans each year and there currently is nothing approved for its treatment or prevention.
“It’s a highly diverse virus so it’s difficult to create something for it. We started looking at the different species and found that the nucleotide binding site of the norovirus RNA polymerase is a region that is very similar over diverse noroviruses.”
His team realized that they could target the virus through an oral drug since norovirus affects the epithelial region of the gut. It is also possible to look at how much active drug gets to the target cells very early in clinical development. Currently they are optimizing drug delivery for the norovirus indication.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the details involved in drug development, but it really boils down to safety and efficacy. If you can get enough of the active drug to where it is needed without getting too much where it is not needed, it should work!”
Read more about his career path in the article, “Alumni Spotlight: Dr. Randall Lanier, Chief Science Officer of Chimerix.”
This article was written by Charlotte Anthony, marketing specialist at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Health San Antonio.