Researchers at Stanford University’s Dean Felsher Laboratory have announced plans to collaborate with drug discovery company Pepper Bio in an effort to identify therapeutic targets for untreatable lymphatic and liver cancers. With the help of Pepper Bio’s platform on phosphoproteomics, the collaborators reportedly aim to identify and validate novel targets for hepatocellular carcinoma and lymphoma within the year.
To learn more about the partnership and the work the collaborators have planned, Outsourcing-Pharma spoke with Pepper Bio’s co-founders:
- Jon Hu, CEO
- Samantha Dale Strasser, chief science officer
OSP: Could you please tell us a bit about Pepper Bio—who you are, what you do, and what makes your firm stand out from others in this arena?
PB: Pepper Bio is the world’s first transomics drug discovery company. Our platform serves as a ‘Waze for drug discovery’ – using real-time data to help researchers navigate the fastest and safest route to positive patient outcomes in clinical trials.
Conventional approaches in drug discovery R&D only look at three biological data layers – DNA, RNA, and protein. Triangulating the data from independent analyses of each layer to derive insights is a segmented process that often leads to misidentification of correlation as causation.
Our proprietary technology is three-fold. First, it is functional, integrating post-translational modification data (notably phosphorylation) with genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics. Second, it is global, conducting unbiased, systems-wide analysis to encompass all pathways. Third, it is causal – driving towards true causation instead of just correlation.
With our platform’s meaningful, actionable conclusions, we can surface information that would otherwise be missed and develop more effective therapies for patients – both internally and alongside pharma partners.
OSP: How did you come to work with the Felsher Lab team—have you collaborated on oncological research or other projects before?
PB: To make the most impact with our technology, we sought out experts in devastating disease areas. Through our network, we connected with Myc expert Dean Felsher, head of the Felsher Lab and Stanford Medicine’s associate chief of medical oncology, translational research, and applied medicine.
Tackling aggressive and untreatable diseases like Myc-driven cancers is why we built Pepper. To both parties, the fit between the ongoing projects at the Felsher Lab and the transomic capabilities of our platform was apparent.
To date, we’ve run a successful pilot project through a paid CNS partnership which validated known mechanisms of action (MOA) and identified a potential new MOA. We’ve also pre-clinically validated a target for inflammatory bowel disease via in vivo models.
OSP: Could you please talk about the progress (or lack thereof, as the case may be) in treatments for hepatocellular carcinoma and lymphoma in recent years?
PB: A subset of hepatocellular carcinoma and lymphoma are Myc-driven, which means they rely on the Myc gene to maintain malignancy. These Myc-driven cancers are highly aggressive and while directly targeting Myc is a powerful treatment approach, historical attempts at doing so have failed.
As a whole, treatment options for hepatocellular carcinoma have progressed somewhat in the last few years with the approval of a few drugs. Still, these advancements lag most other cancers and cannot treat Myc-driven hepatocellular carcinoma.
In recent years, there has only been one advancement for lymphoma (an anti-cd20 drug), but it doesn’t target a cancer driver. Additionally, the two Myc-driven types of lymphoma (double-hit and double-expressor) don’t respond well to existing treatments and offer a much poorer prognosis.
Developing better therapies for these cancers will have implications for the development of treatments for other Myc-addicted cancers, such as aggressive prostate cancer and triple-negative breast cancer.
OSP: Why is your platform uniquely suited for this work?
PB: The ability to integrate data on protein phosphorylation, a critical mechanism of tumor growth and sustained survival, into transomic analyses to gain a global understanding of all existing disease pathways is crucial in treating aggressive cancers.
A pioneer of omics analyses, Dr. Strasser has developed the technology to assess and integrate phosphoproteomics into drug development analysis. As such, our platform is uniquely positioned to help drug developers identify and defeat certain pathways that are causing malignant cancer cells to grow.
OSP: Is there anything you’d like to add?
PB: Following the progression of data and analytics in drug discovery, from the dawn of the genomic era to today, a fully integrated transomic approach to drug development is not a matter of if but when. This partnership further validates the advantages of a transomic approach and Pepper’s technological leadership in this blue ocean.
Founding Pepper to treat the untreatable, our co-founders’ families have both been affected by a lack of treatment options for neurodegenerative diseases. If you’re passionate about treating the untreatable, we’re growing quickly and would love to have you join our team.