Published January 20, 2015
Volume 23, Number 1

Astex Makes Its Mark with Cancer Drugs
Focusing Molecules to Attack Cells from Multiple Pathways

Astex Pharmaceuticals
Sameena Sharif, PhD, Vice President of Business Operations, with Astex Pharmaceuticals

By Zoe Francis

Astex Pharmaceuticals plans to change the world one cancer patient at a time.
The firm is developing five revolutionary drugs that could dramatically improve the lives of cancer patients.
 “Astex’s primary focus is in cancer care or oncology,” Sameena Sharif, PhD, vice president of business operations, portfolio planning and project management, said. “We work on blood cancers, as well as solid tumors.”
The company currently has five drugs at various stages of clinical development.
“We think our agents are potentially better,” Sharif said. “The drug discovery platform used focuses the molecule on the area we want to hit. We’re trying to target a specific aspect of that cancer to get a better efficacy.”
The beauty of Astex’s drugs is that each particular drug being developed can often times target more than one type of cancer. The firm’s SGI110 is currently being tested to tackle two different types of leukemia, but it may also be effective on other cancers such as ovarian and colorectal tumors.
“Oncology compounds tend to complement each other,” Sharif said. “If you can get it right, you can hit a cancer cell from multiple pathways. That is really exciting.”
 “We think (SGI110) is best in class,” she added. “It’s the next generation. We hope that it will have potentially better efficacy than other compounds in its class.”
Astex began as SuperGen, which started in Emeryville in 1991 and eventually moved its headquarters to Dublin. When SuperGen bought United Kingdom-based Astex in 2011, the combined company retained the name Astex Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
“We started as a drug development company,” Sharif explained. “When we acquired Astex, we became a research and development company by adding the drug discovery arm to our capabilities.”
In late 2013, Astex was acquired by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company, based in Japan, and operates as a wholly owned subsidiary.
In early February, the company will move from its Dublin location to new offices at Hacienda’s Rosewood Commons. The firm will occupy the entire second floor of building two.
“We’re basically starting from scratch and building it to our needs,” Sharif said of the new site. “We loved the fact that we could design it from the ground up. Everybody’s all on one floor, which is great. It’s a lot more open space for us.”
Employees will also have access to amenities they did not have at their previous location, such as a gym, cafeteria, outdoor spaces and walking paths. The new location is also close to BART, a big bonus for employees who commute.
“The amenities really make a big difference,” she said. “It makes sense for us to move.”
The 63 employees doing research and development at Hacienda go far beyond just scientists. An entire team is needed to handle matters such as regulatory affairs, clinical trials and even general administration.
It most likely will be another three years before an Astex oncology drug is approved for the market. Any drugs developed by Astex will ultimately be manufactured and marketed by Otsuka.
“This (research and development) is the part we enjoy,” Sharif said. “That’s how we will change the world. We will have made a difference in oncology patients’ lives.”
Learn more about Astex and the drugs it is developing at astx.com.


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