Getting to Know Scott Drutman, M.D., Ph.D., SVP, Head of Translational Science
November 8, 2021
Welcome to Scott Drutman, M.D., Ph.D., who recently joined Volastra as Senior Vice President, Head of Translational Science. We sat down with Scott to learn a bit about him and his vision for clinical development at Volastra.
How did you first become interested in clinical development for cancer?
By the time I was in college, I knew I wanted to be a biologist. I was particularly interested in human biology and not only loved the introspective aspect of exploring our own nature but also the tremendous potential it has to impact our treatment of disease and improve human health.
During the summer after my sophomore year, I worked in an immunology lab at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My lab was right across from its world-renowned hospital, yet I might as well have been on the other side of town. We never visited the medical facilities or talked about the application of our work for patients. I was so struck by how disconnected we were from medicine, and that’s why I decided to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. – to bridge that gap.
In medical school, I was fascinated by the burgeoning field of immunology, especially as it related to cancer. A tumor must make all the right maneuvers to survive, prosper and evade the immune system. This is such a scientifically rich area to explore, and I knew I wanted to better understand how we could further nudge the immune system to recognize cancer. Following my medical oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering, I joined a human genetics lab at Rockefeller University, where I encountered the same issue I had seen in my college days. I was working in the lab on one side of York Avenue and seeing cancer patients in the hospital on the other, struggling to bridge the gap between research and medicine. I was a fully trained physician-scientist, but with two parallel careers instead of a joint one that actively translated scientific discoveries into medicine.
That’s when I began to see industry as an exciting opportunity to solve the disconnect I first witnessed as a budding biologist. I was drawn to early clinical development because the purpose is to take great science and get it to the patients that will benefit the most as quickly as possible. It’s extremely rewarding to keep my finger on the pulse of innovation and discovery while remaining focused on the cancer patients I hope to help.
What drew you to Volastra and how is the company unique in its clinical development strategy?
Volastra’s focus on bringing new therapies quickly to patients by integrating translational science and strongly considering clinical development early in the discovery process piqued my interest. The company’s small, but nimble team is a fantastic group of scientists that are truly interested in understanding how the science they are doing can facilitate and inform our clinical development strategy. I wanted to join this group as they work together to translate science to medicine.
I also found Volastra unique because the company is tackling a very new therapeutic approach. Nobody has really considered chromosomal instability (CIN) as a therapeutic target before. Researchers have traditionally looked at genomic disarray as something that allows the cancer cells to do what they do, but Volastra is saying this process, in and of itself, is a vulnerability that we can exploit. I am also interested in the fact that CIN is relevant across multiple tumor types and stages, and the large number of patients that have CIN-high tumors presents a strong opportunity to make a difference.
This creates both new challenges and opportunities in terms of clinical development. It’s certainly uncharted territory, but it’s also exciting because most cancer patients have been left behind by recent advances in treatment, like immunotherapy. There’s huge potential to help these people.
Why is it so important to find the right patient population?
I cannot stress enough that identifying the right patient population in cancer drug development is critical; I personally feel a great responsibility to make sure the science is strong, and we design our clinical studies in a way that will give us the information we need to bring a therapy forward as safely and quickly as possible. I believe we owe it to everyone, from the scientists to the study participants, to run a clinical trial that answers thoughtful questions. That means investigating which tumor types have high rates of CIN or studying attributes of particular patient populations that might affect treatment response. Our priority is to ensure we have the best information on hand to inform our clinical strategy moving forward. All this works towards our goal of getting a medicine to the patients that can benefit the most as quickly as possible.
You can learn more about Scott and the rest of our team here.