Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide.1 With more than 100 types and a biology that’s constantly changing, it’s also one of the most complex diseases known to mankind.2, 3 In 2012, there were 14.1 million new cancer cases and 8.2 million cancer deaths worldwide.4 By 2030, the global burden is expected to grow to 21.7 million new cancer cases and 13 million cancer deaths as a result of growth and aging of the population.5
Meet Some of Pfizer’s Oncology Researchers
Robert Abraham, PhD
Senior Vice President, Group Head
of Oncology Research and Development
Robert (Bob) is Senior Vice President and Group Head, Oncology Research & Development Group. This group is at the forefront of breaking new ground to develop impactful, life-saving cancer therapies and spearheading the company’s Precision Medicine approach to Research and Development. Dr. Abraham also serves as the Director of the Pfizer Postdoctoral program, helping develop talented early career scientists into outstanding industry and academic researchers.
Dr. Abraham received his PhD in pharmacology at the University of Pittsburgh, and his BS in Biology from Bucknell University. He is the author of more than 200 scientific publications, and has served on and chaired grant review panels at the National Institutes of Health. He is a reviewer for many leading scientific journals, including Nature, Science, and Cell.
Prior to this new role, Dr. Abraham served as Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of the Oncology Research Unit. Before joining Pfizer, Dr. Abraham was the Vice President of Oncology Research at Wyeth and Co-Chair of the Wyeth Oncology Therapeutic Area Strategic Committee.
While at Wyeth, he also served as a member of the Discovery Review Board and the Discovery Executive Committee, and was the Director of the Wyeth Discovery Postdoctoral Training Program.
Before joining Wyeth, Dr. Abraham was a professor at the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California. He served as the Director of the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research Cancer Research Center and successfully guided the center to a renewal of its designation as one of nine National Cancer Institute-sponsored basic science centers in the United States.
Dr. Abraham also founded and directed the program in Signal Transduction Research in the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research Cancer Center, and retains an appointment as an Adjunct Professor at the Sanford-Burnham Institute for Medical Research, together with an Adjunct Professor Appointment in Pharmacology at the University of California, San Diego. Previously, Dr. Abraham was a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke University Medical Center, and was the first recipient of the Glaxo-Wellcome Chair of Molecular Cancer Biology at Duke. Before his arrival at Duke University, Dr. Abraham began his independent research career at the Mayo Clinic, where he rose from his initial position as a postdoctoral fellow to the rank of Professor in the Departments of Immunology and Pharmacology.
Dr. Abraham has received several awards for both his teaching and research contributions, including the Legacy Laureate Award, as an outstanding alumnus of the University of Pittsburgh.
Maria Jose Costa, PhD
Maria Jose Costa is a Principal Scientist at Rinat Research and Development, part of Pfizer’s Oncology Research and Development Group. Since joining Pfizer in 2014, she has been focused on developing targeted therapies for types of hematological malignancies that still have an unmet need and, more recently, on researching new strategies to counteract the immunosuppressive microenvironment of solid tumors and improve the efficacy of immunotherapies.
Dr. Costa received her BS degree in Biochemistry from University of Coimbra, Portugal. As an undergraduate student, she trained with Prof. Sobrinho-Simoes in thyroid pathology and cancer biology. She then moved to Brussels, Belgium, to pursue her PhD studies in Human (Cell) Biology in a joint program between University of Porto and Free University of Brussels, under the supervision of Prof. Jacques Dumont. Dr. Costa’s PhD thesis focused on the role of plasma membrane microdomains in the regulation of signal transduction downstream thyrotropin and hormone production in human thyroid cells. She uncovered that plasma membrane microdomains named “caveolae” at the apex of thyroid cells are critical for the formation of the “thyroxisome,” a multi-enzyme complex responsible for the safe and efficient production of H2O2 and thyroid pro-hormone iodination.
Prior to joining Pfizer, Dr. Costa moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where she completed two postdocs at University of California San Francisco. First, with Prof. Wang, she discovered the cancer-promoting role of host Notch4 in the breast tumor microenvironment and angiogenesis. Then, in the laboratory of Prof. Ruggero, Maria used genetic and small molecule inhibitor approaches to demonstrate the key oncogenic role of eIF4E on translation control of anti-apoptotic factors downstream hyper-activated AKT-mTOR pathway in lymphoma. She then joined the Stanford University Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine in the laboratory of Prof. Feldman, where she studied the effects of glucocorticoid hormone and circadian clock disruption on the fate of adipose tissue-derived progenitor cells.
Nathan Ihle, PhD
Dr. Ihle joined Pfizer in 2013 and began working to identify specific dependencies in cancer cells necessary for growth and survival. His current work focuses on efforts to inhibit Ras signaling, a pathway disregulated at a high frequency in tumors while sparing any detrimental effects of Ras inhibition in normal tissue
Dr. Ihle received his BS in Environmental Biology at the University of Arizona in 2001. Prior to joining Pfizer, he began working in the laboratory of Garth Powis characterizing PI3K inhibitors derived from the natural product Wortmannin. In 2005, the lab moved to MD Anderson in Houston, Texas where Dr. Ihle became a program coordinator for an optimized PI3K inhibitor, leading studies outlining how to mitigate the on-target hyperglycemia seen with PI3K inhibition and describing the interplay between activating KRas and PI3K mutations in determining the response of cancer cells. In 2008, this inhibitor moved to clinical trials and he began working towards his PhD, becoming a full time student in 2010.
For his graduate work, Dr. Ihle provided basic research support to a multi-armed targeted therapy clinical trial studying KRas signaling in lung cancer. His work has contributed to 16 publications with nine being first author studies or reviews.
Puja Sapra, PhD
Vice President, Nanomedicines and Bioconjugates
Puja Sapra is Vice President at the Oncology Research and Development Group. Dr. Sapra leads the research group responsible for preclinical development of targeted therapeutics including nanomedicines, bioconjugates and antibody-drug conjugate. Her group has built novel sophisticated technologies to develop antibody-drug conjugate molecules and has advanced several of these candidate molecules to clinical trials.
Dr. Sapra received her PhD in Pharmacology from University of Alberta, Canada, her BS from All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and her MS in Pharmacology from UK. She is an author of >50 scientific publications, book chapters and co-inventor on several issued patents.
Prior to joining Pfizer, Dr. Sapra led Pharmacology groups at Enzon Pharmaceuticals and Immunomedics Inc. and developed oncology-based drugs that are undergoing clinical evaluation. She has broad expertise in targeting strategies including immunotherapeutics, liposomal drug delivery system, nanoparticles, antisense oligonucleotide delivery and pegylation technologies.
Yan Qu, PhD
Senior Principal Scientist
Yan Qu is a Senior Principal Scientist at Rinat, which is part of the Oncology Research and Development Group. Since joining Pfizer in 2013, she has been supporting avelumab preclinical research work through collaboration with the Pfizer global development team. More recently, Dr. Qu has been exploring therapeutic strategies targeting myeloid populations and designing the next generation anti-CD40 mAb and cytokine fusion protein.
Dr. Qu received her PhD and MS degree from Case Western Reserve University. She worked in Dr. Michael Weiss’s lab studying the sex-determining region Y protein (SRY), a transcription factor, and the function of its nuclear localization domain in the context of sex-related disorders. Dr. Qu continued pursuing her PhD in pharmacology department in Dr. George Dubyak’s lab. Trained as a cell biologist, her thesis focused on studying the purinergic receptor (P2X7R, an ATP receptor) signaling cascade, P2X7R mediated IL-1β processing and secretion through membrane trafficking / secretory pathway regulation and how this affects antigen presenting cells activation in the context of inflammation.
Prior to joining Pfizer, Dr. Qu moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and started her post-doctoral training at Genentech in Dr. Vishva Dixit’s lab, where she discovered that phosphorylation of NLR family CARD domain-containing protein 4 (NLRC4) is critical for macrophage activation upon salmonella infection. She also worked on a parallel project characterizing pannexin1 hemichannel-dependent metabolites release and its role in regulating thymocytes homeostasis and apoptotic cell clearance.
Selected Publications from the Oncology Research Group
- Axitinib effectively inhibits BCR-ABL1(T315I) with a distinct binding conformation Nature Pemskova T, Johnson E, Kontro M, Repasky GA, Chen J, Wells P, Cronin CN, McTigue M, Kallioniemi O, Porkka K, Murray BW, Wennerberg K. March 5 2015
- Combination of 4-1BB agonist and PD-1 antagonist promotes antitumor effector/memory CD8 T cells in a poorly immunogenic tumor model Cancer Immunology Research Chen S, Lee LF, Fisher TS, Jessen B, Elliott M, Evering W, Logronio K, Tu GH, Tsaparikos K, Li X, Wang H, Ying C, Xiong M, VanArsdale T, Lin JC. February 3 2015
- Molecular Pathways: Targeting the Cyclin D – CDK4/6 Axis for Cancer Treatment Clinical Cancer Research VanArsdale T, Boshoff C, Arndt K, Abraham RT. May 2015
- OASIS: web-based platform for exploring cancer multi-omics data Nature Methods Fernandez-Banet J, Esposito A, Coffin S, Boerner Horvath I, Esterlla H, Schefzick S, Deng S, Wang K, Ching KA, Ding Y, Roberts P, Rejto PA, Kan Z. 2016
- PF-06463922, an ALK/ROS1 Inhibitor, Overcomes Resistance to First and Second Generation ALK Inhibitors in Preclinical Models Cancer Cell Zou HY, Friboulet L, Kodack DP, Engstrom LD, Li Q, West M, Tang RW, Wang H, Tsaparikos K, Wang J, Timofeevski S, Katayama R, Dinh DM, Lam H, Lam JL, Yamazaki S, Hu W, Patel B, Bezwada D, Frias RL, Lifshits E, Mahmood S, Gainor JF, Affolter T, Lappin PB, Gukasyan H, Lee N, Deng S, Jain RK, Johnson TW, Shaw AT, Fantin VR, Smeal T. July 13 2015
- Reciprocal regulation of amino acid import and epigenetic state through Lat1 and EZH2 EMBO Journal Dann SG, Ryskin M, Barsotti AM, Golas J, Shi C, Miranda M, Hosselet C, Lemon L, Lucas J, Karnoub M, Wang F, Myers JS, Garza SJ, Follettie MT, Geles KG, Klippel A, Rollins RA, Fantin VR. July 2 2015
- Site-specific conjugation improves therapeutic index of antibody drug conjugates Nature Biotechnology Strop P, Delaria K, Foletti D, Witt JM, Hasa-Moreno A, Poulsen K, Casas MG, Dorywalska M, Farias S, Pios A, Lui V, Dushin R, Zhou D, Navaratnam T, Tran TT, Sutton J, Lindquist KC, Han B, Liu SH, Shelton DL, Pons J, Rajpal A. July 8 2015
- Toward a Molecular Definition of Leucine-Dependent mTORC1 Activation Cell Metabolism Abraham RT. March 8 2016
- XPO1-dependent nuclear export is a druggable vulnerability in KRAS-mutant lung cancer Nature Kim J, McMillan E, Kim HS, Venkateswaran N, Makkar G, Rodriguez-Canales J, Mendiratta S, Wei S, Landesman J, Senapedis W, Baloglu E, Chi-Wan B, Chow C, Frink, R, Boning Gao B, Roth M, Minna D, Daelemans D, Wistuba I, Posner B, Scaglioni P, White MA. October 6 2016