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Superheroes of Science

Jun 22, 2020

Herman Sintim, Drug Discovery Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry at Purdue University, has worked to develop a potential drug compound for treating an aggressive form of leukemia known as acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Leukemia is one of several different types of blood cancers. While there are a number of different drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently on the market for treating leukemia, patients treated with these drugs often experience a relapse with cancer. Chemists have the ability to study proteins that “go rogue,” or initiate cancer within a cell, and develop molecules (drugs) that are able to bind to such proteins and stop the cancer process. Sintim’s potential drug has tested very well with an animal model, and the next step is to answer the question: “Will it work in humans?” KinaRx LLC, a startup company co-Founded by Sintim, was recently awarded a grant from the National Cancer Institute that will help answer this question. Sintim explains that when a potential drug makes it to “clinical trials,” this is the first time the drug is administered to patients and evaluated to see whether it works. A small human population is used in Phase 1 of clinical trials. If the drug produces results indicating that it is working, the use of that drug is expanded to larger groups of patients in Phases 2 and 3. Finally, statisticians look at the results from these phases to see whether the data that has been collected indicates that the drug actually works. All of this takes place before the FDA provides approval for the drug to be administered to a larger human population and can take up to 15 years or more. Sintim follows with a great explanation of how timelines for moving both drugs and vaccines to clinical trials can become drastically shorter depending on the interest level related to development. With one group working on developing one drug or vaccine, the timeline is significantly longer than if many groups are focusing their efforts on the development of that same drug or vaccine. Sintim advises students to always follow their passions. By pursuing something that you find interesting, you will likely put more energy into your pursuits and find that you will excel.