Chemistry Professor’s Masterclass and Career Advice
Monday, 16 March 2020
After a 27 year absence, Michael Waring, who is now a Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Newcastle University, returned to Bolton School to inspire the next generation of scientists. He offered a masterclass to Sixth Form boys before delivering a lunchtime seminar to Chemistry students and pupils interested in Medical Sciences from Y10-13 of both Divisions, in which he focused on his career and work at the Newcastle University Centre for Cancer.
Professor Waring told students that Bolton School is a great place to learn chemistry and that it will give them a superb grounding in the subject. He recalled how his own teachers had inspired him and said that it is only later in life that you fully appreciate their worth. As a precursor to his lesson, he highlighted the key contribution that chemistry makes to the discovery of new medicines. His own field of work, he explained, is in the treatment of cancer. He described cancer as being ‘uncontrolled cell growth’, which whilst sounding simple is actually very complicated. No two cancers are alike and each has its own drivers. His presentation focused on the chemistry behind lung cancer and he spoke about how cancer treatments must be targeted to their genetic drivers. He focused on Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Tyrosine Kinase (EGFRTK) signalling and inhibitors that he worked on. He reminded students that discovering new medicines is expensive, time-consuming and difficult but that there is great promise for the future in being able to tackle cancer treatment more effectively.
In his lunchtime seminar, Professor Waring offered an overview and history of cancer. He considered the earliest known written mention of cancer, a breast tumour in ancient Egypt noted by Imhotep, and the modern view and explained that there won’t be just one ‘cure for cancer’ that will work on all cancers. In a fascinating presentation, he told how evolution requires mutation, which therefore makes it impossible to prevent cancer completely. If you live long enough, you will develop cancer at some point he told the audience - but he also advised on ways to reduce the risk such as not smoking and reducing exposure to hot sun. He explained how chemical drugs work by displacing the molecules that bind to receptors in the body. Whilst explaining the process of drug discovery, he talked about the BRCA1 gene, which is responsible for repairing double-stranded breaks in DNA, and how the team at Newcastle has developed a treatment for cancer called Rubraca which exploits this defect to kill cancer in patients who have defects in the BRCA1 gene.
In a questions and answers session, Professor Waring explained that Medicinal Chemistry is concerned with the interface between chemistry and biology but that he personally only studied Biology to GCSE, his last lesson was at Bolton School, and went on to do a straight chemistry degree. He said he picked up the biology he needed through his work at AstraZeneca and his time in academia. However, he advised, that increasingly there are more opportunities to become proficient in both areas through undergraduate or postgraduate training. He also made the point that biology is really just chemistry taking place in living things and it's possible, if you have a good grasp of chemistry, to pick up biology by applying that knowledge.
When asked "Where do you see medicine going in your lifetime", he told how antibodies and small molecule drugs are the only two successful treatments we have at the moment, yet 70-80% of the genome cannot be tackled with these two modalities. He therefore thought that new molecular approaches to drug “undruggable” targets may be a way forward. He said that in the last five years, we’ve seen new approaches to things that previously seemed impossible. He also spoke about the importance of tackling drug resistance, and the need to be successful in developing multiple rounds of treatments and drugs to tackle drug-resistant cancers.
Professor Mike Waring is Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Newcastle University, Head of Chemistry at the Cancer Research UK Newcastle Drug Discovery Centre and Director of the Molecular Sciences for Medicine Centre for Doctoral Training. He teaches in the Drug Metabolism and Toxicology modules of the Chemistry with Medicinal Chemistry (BSc and MChem) and Drug Chemistry (MSc) degree programmes.
Watch Professor Waring’s Cancer Drug Development talk in full here or press play below:
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