1 Mar 2016
Kurt Pike PhD is a Team Leader in the Oncology Chemistry group at AstraZeneca. He received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry at the University of Southampton and then remained at Southampton to complete a PhD studying radical cascade reactions under the supervision of Prof Jeremy Kilburn. In 1997 he joined Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, now AstraZeneca, and has been involved in the delivery of a number of clinical candidates across the Oncology, Diabetes and Inflammation therapy areas. In 2014 he moved to the new Astrazeneca Oncology Chemistry facilities in Cambridge UK. His responsibilities include leading the Medicinal Chemistry on multiple drug discovery projects including a number of projects targeting kinases as potential cancer therapies. Dr Pike is a member of SCI’s Fine Chemicals Group, Young Chemists’ Panel and Liverpool North West Group.
What sparked your interest in science?
From a very young age I have always wanted to know why things happen the way they do and have always enjoyed learning about new things. My parents both come from a scientific background so they were both very keen to encourage my inquisitive nature and instil an enthusiasm for knowledge and science in particular.
What keeps you interested?
The scientific arena is constantly evolving and changing with new and exciting breakthroughs, and more importantly for me, new and challenging problems to solve. For me, the opportunity to use my knowledge and understanding to discover innovative new ways to solve complex problems is extremely exciting. In addition, the opportunity to work closely with other talented scientists who have quite different experiences and knowledge sets means that I can continue to develop as both a scientist and as a person. To be part of a cross disciplinary team trying to solve problems which might ultimately have a significant benefit to the lives of patients, is something which has motivated me throughout my career.
What do you think are the main challenges facing scientists working in this area?
The terrible diseases which we call cancer are incredibly varied and identifying treatments which make a meaningful difference to patients is a complex challenge. Now, more than ever, we are seeing the need to understand how the genetic abnormalities present in different tumours drive the oncogenic phenotype. With this understanding we can start to identify the best agents for the treatment of the cancer. This concept of 'Personalised Medicine' within the field of cancer therapies will be crucial in identifying effective treatments and making sure that patients receive maximum benefit.
You are presenting at Kinase 2016: Next Generation Inhibitors. What led you to become interested in the area of kinase in particular?
Kinases play a key role in the signalling pathways which regulate complex processes within the cell, and as such are attractive targets to modify disease across a range of different therapeutic areas. The potential for small molecules to modify kinase activity and effectively treat disease is now well precedented but despite this the challenges for discovering new kinase-based therapies remain varied and significant. I have had the opportunity to work on both kinases inhibitors and activators across a range of therapy areas and each different target has presented its own unique challenge.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
For me, the satisfaction of solving a problem, large or small, is a big part of what drives me to continue in my work. I have also been incredibly fortunate to work with many talented people resulting in the discovery of a number of small molecules which have been selected for clinical evaluation. The invention of a compound suitable for clinical evaluation is always a highlight for a Medicinal Chemist working within Pharmaceutical Discovery and my career highlight to date remains the discovery of my first clinical candidate. This achievement was a particular highlight to me as it was achieved very early in my career as a Medicinal Chemist and involved the solution of many complex problems through innovative chemistry design. The learning I attained through this challenge has been crucial in shaping the Medicinal Chemist I am today. I am also incredibly proud of my most recent achievement, which I will be presenting in more detail at Kinase 2016: Next generation Inhibitors. Again, this success has come from working alongside a number of talented scientists and applying our skills as Medicinal Chemists to overcome numerous challenges to design a first in class clinical inhibitor of ATM kinase with exceptional potency and selectivity, one of the most challenging aspects in the discovery of kinase inhibitors, and with excellent predicted pharmacokinetic properties.
Would you have done anything differently?
With hindsight it is always easy to see where you have gone wrong and how you could have made different decisions; however, when I look back on my successes it is almost always from the times when I have been able to step back from the minute detail and properly define the problem facing me. Once this is done it is always easier to see the best direction to take.
What would someone at the start of the career need to do to achieve what you have?
Mentoring is one of the most valuable ways of gaining experience at the start of your career and can really help you to achieve your full potential. I was very lucky to have an excellent mentor when I started my career in Medicinal Chemistry. This really helped me to develop my knowledge and understanding and put me firmly on track for my career to date. Therefore, my advice to anyone at the start of their career would be to identify a suitable mentor and then make the most of that person’s knowledge and experience; being receptive to other people’s views and challenges will help you develop as a better scientist.
If you had not pursued a career in this field, what would you have done?
Ever since I decided that I wanted to study Chemistry I have wanted to pursue a career in the Pharmaceutical sector. However, maths was arguably my strongest subject when I was younger and it was a discipline which I thoroughly enjoyed at both school and University, albeit I preferred the balance of theory and practical work that Chemistry provided. Therefore, I think if I had not pursued a career in Chemistry I would probably have pursued a career in which mathematics played an important role in my day to day activities, for example a career in Engineering.