The prestigious, well known mainstream publication, The Atlantic, included noted cancer research scientist, Harvard Medical School’s Jay Bradner, as a part of their Brave Thinkers series. If you recall, Dr. Bradner has been working on the potentially game changing anti-cancer compound, JQ1.
Jay Bradner, Research Scientist, Harvard Medical School
Two years ago, after Jay Bradner made a remarkable breakthrough—the discovery of a molecule that, in mice, appeared to trick certain cancer cells into becoming normal cells—he did something unusual. Instead of huddling with lawyers to file for a patent on the molecule, Bradner simply gave his work away. Hoping to get the discovery into the hands of any scientist who could advance it, he published the structure of the compound (called JQ1) and mailed samples to labs around the world. The move, he says, felt like “the more efficient way to do science—and maybe the more honorable way.”
The open-source approach Bradner adopted is revolutionary in a culture where discoveries are kept secret, often until they can be tested, manufactured, and sold as treatments—a cruelly long process in the face of the cancers he studies.
The monopoly on developing the molecule that Bradner walked away from would likely have been worth a fortune (last year, the median value for U.S.-based biotech companies was $370 million). Now four companies are building on his discovery—which delights Bradner, who this year released four new molecules. “For years, drug discovery has been a dark art performed behind closed doors with the shades pulled,” he says. “I would be greatly satisfied if the example of this research contributed to a change in the culture of drug discovery.”
There was a lot of excitement surrounding preclinical (not tested on humans yet) study results of JQ1 in the fall of 2011. Impressive, theatrical clips of Dr. Bradner appeared on TED TV and YouTube, promoting his team’s new discovery.
I was pretty hard on Dr. Bradner at the time. I’m not a fan of getting desperate cancer patients and caregivers all excited before a drug shows promise in humans. I have heard/seen it all before dozens of times–cancer is destroyed in a test tube or animal testing–only to fall flat when the technology can’t be duplicated in clinical trials.
But my criticism may have been misguided. Dr. Bradner was kind enough to leave an extensive comment on MMB later that year, explaining all and giving us an insider’s update about the progress of JQ1. He was gracious and professional, exhibiting no hard feelings over my skeptical approach to reporting about JQ1.
Based on The Atlantic’s report above, “misguided” my be an understatement. Looks like I really misjudged him and his approach. I’m sorry, Dr. Bradner! Keep those awesome new, experimental molecules coming!
Here are links to previous posts I have written about Dr. Bradner and JQ1:
A reader was kind enough to forward me a link to the article about Dr. Bradner. Thank you! Our readers are one of our best sources of information here at MMB. So if you read or see more about JQ1–or any other innovative cancer therapy–please pass it along. We can always run it on HelpWithCancer.org. And Dr. Bradner has promised periodic updates about JQ1 as soon as they occur. So stay tuned!
Feel good and keep smiling! Pat