Charting Volastra’s R&D path

October 4, 2021

By Michael Arensman, Aaron Phillips and Hyeseok Shim

Every medicine starts with a discovery. But fanning the flame of an idea into something bigger takes more than just an exciting finding. At Volastra, we have a strategic approach to R&D that we believe will bring the latest science to patients, faster.

We see three critical pieces to our R&D strategy:

A deeply involved leadership team

We are privileged to have incredible scientists and strategists leading our organization. But perhaps most importantly, they are here working alongside us day to day.

Our Chief Scientific Officer, Michael, attends each of the weekly team project updates. He’s actively involved in shaping our hypotheses, our methods and our analyses. Our CEO, Charles, taps in to ask questions and hear the latest updates. We also have a weekly call with Volastra’s three co- founders – Lew, Olivier and Sam – to keep them updated on our progress but also to gain their insights and perspective about how to drive the science forward most effectively. Finally, we have monthly all-company meetings where everyone can hear about the various projects in development.

Why are these frequent touchpoints important? It means there’s both transparency and efficiency. We hear firsthand what’s important to our leadership team. We can incorporate their feedback and know that, at the end of the day, we’re all aligned on what to do next. This helps us devise a more streamlined path forward – whether it’s tweaking our experiments or adding new priorities. This also means that everyone at the company knows what’s going on – no one is left in the dark. Having this global view helps inform each individual’s projects, too.

World-class collaborations

Progress never happens in a vacuum. At Volastra, we’re tackling one of the biggest challenges in cancer – its growth and spread – so we recognize the importance of bringing in other perspectives and expertise beyond our walls to help us achieve things that have never been done before.

That’s why we’ve prioritized building strong and strategic collaborations. Earlier this year, we launched partnerships with Dewpoint Therapeutics and Microsoft. These partnerships are built on the principle that we can combine our expertise to build something greater than the sum of its parts. By bringing together different people, with different backgrounds and experiences, we can foster new conversations, questions and ideas that move us forward.

And from a practical standpoint, these collaborations bring new resources. For example, we work with Weill Cornell Medicine to use their patient-derived 3D organoids, which allow us to test our hypotheses and therapy candidates more quickly and effectively than through animal models alone. With Microsoft, we’re working to develop machine learning algorithms that can automatically detect drivers of tumor growth and predict metastatic risk. This could be hugely important not just in the clinic, but also for informing better research questions. Together with the expertise and equipment we have in house (we love our Operetta!), these collaborations exponentially expand what we can achieve moving forward.

Good people

We’re proud of the culture we’ve built at Volastra. Every person that walks through the door brings something special and, to put it simply, is a nice person. We value not just scientific expertise but also collaborative spirits and an open mind because we believe this makes us a better, more cohesive team. We genuinely like each other, and that makes our work all the more meaningful.

We try to think out of the box and make sure diverse perspectives inform our work. While it’s easy to get tunnel vision in the lab, we make a conscious effort to view our research through the bigger picture. In fact, earlier this year we met with a breast cancer survivor over Zoom, so we could learn about her story and what would have been helpful to her as she was going through treatment. Speaking with her was a reminder of how much still needs to be done for cancer patients, and why our work matters. More recently, we invited her to our headquarters in Harlem and even had a company picnic together in Central Park. She feels like part of the team now, and we know her input is invaluable.

R&D is the engine of every biotech – but how you approach it sets you apart. At Volastra, we’re working to carve a unique R&D path that we hope will help us deliver better therapies to patients.

Learn more about our science


Michael Arensman, Ph.D., is Senior Scientist, Biology 

Hyeseok Shim, Ph.D., is Senior Scientist, Biology 

Aaron Phillips, Ph.D., is Scientist II, Biology