May 29, 2009

Renowned cancer drug researcher joins Vanderbilt

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Stephen Fesik, Ph.D.

Renowned cancer drug researcher joins Vanderbilt

Stephen Fesik, Ph.D., internationally known for structural biology research and cancer drug discovery at Abbott Laboratories, has joined Vanderbilt Medical Center as professor of Biochemistry.

Fesik will lead the cancer drug discovery initiatives of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

“I have looked at the possibility of going into academia for many years,” Fesik said. Vanderbilt “is a great environment to do high quality, innovative science and cancer drug discovery.”

Fesik earned his doctorate in medicinal chemistry at the University of Connecticut and did postdoctoral training in molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale Medical School.
He then joined Abbott, where he developed and applied nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) methods in drug discovery.

Divisional vice president of cancer research since 2000, Fesik built a pipeline of drug candidates showing promising anticancer activity in early clinical trials.

Author of more than 230 publications and holder of 10 patents, Fesik is one of three scientists at the highest level of the Volwiler Society, which recognizes Abbott's most distinguished.

Fesik said he was attracted most by the people at Vanderbilt, including Lawrence Marnett, Ph.D., Institute for Chemical Biology director; Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., Cancer Center director; Michael Waterman, Ph.D., Biochemistry chair; and Walter Chazin, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Structural Biology.

The focus of Fesik's research at Vanderbilt will be to discover drugs to treat cancer using structure-based drug design and other methods he pioneered.

“We hope to discover highly effective cancer therapies that will dramatically extend the lives of cancer patients,” he said.

“Although the targets and approaches will be somewhat risky, the payoff to patients and their loved ones could be huge.”

Experts outside Vanderbilt described the combination of Fesik's talents with Vanderbilt's expertise and infrastructure as one offering great promise for the field of cancer research.

“Steve Fesik is one of the great structural biologists of our time whose groundbreaking work transformed the practice of drug development,” said Ronald DePinho, M.D., director of the Center for Applied Cancer Science at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“His impact also derives from his keen biological insights across many disease areas, particularly cancer. Most notably has been his courage to take on some of the toughest drug development challenges. The combination of his talents and the extraordinary community of scholars of Vanderbilt holds great promise for cancer patients,” DePinho said.

Ralph Bradshaw, Ph.D., professor of Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Chemistry at University of California, San Francisco, predicted Fesik will “stir the pot” at Vanderbilt “in a highly positive way.”

“He is a bold and innovative thinker,” Bradshaw said. “It is clearly going to be a fruitful environment for Steve. I expect great things to come from his move there.”