UCSF technology used to trigger cell death becomes basis of company’s cancer therapy research and development

A technology developed in the laboratory of James Wells, PhD, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, UCSF School of Pharmacy, will drive a new approach to cancer treatment that switches on or triggers, with small molecules, the enzymes called caspases that promote cell death. "Most drug discovery efforts are focused on identifying drugs that inhibit enzyme function," said Wells. "But, interestingly, many cellular enzymes remain dormant until activated. In the case of caspases, they can be activated on demand by mimicking the natural process with small molecules."

Wells is the co-founder, with Susan Molineaux, PhD, of the South San Francisco, California company Calithera Biosciences, which announced on July 8 the completion of a US$40 million financing package for the research. "By targeting caspases directly, we hope to develop agents that have broad utility across many types of cancer, with greater specificity than current treatments and the potential to overcome chemoresistance," added Molineaux, who is also the president and chief executive officer of the company.


About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.