Targeting DNA repair vulnerabilities in cancers
On November 14th, we are thrilled to welcome Simon Boulton, a Principal group leader and Assistant Research Director for Translation at the Francis Crick Institute in the UK and co-founder of the Cambridge-based company Artios Pharma.
During his talk, Simon will share his translational journey from fundamental discovery to developing first-in-class inhibitors for cancer treatment. He is considered the first researcher in the world to implicate non-homologous end joining (NHEJ) factors in telomere maintenance, and he discovered the existence of an unappreciated error-prone backup DNA repair pathway, which uses micro-homology mediated end joining (MMEJ) to repair DNA breaks. However, it took 20 years before his discovery became translationally relevant, with the finding that MMEJ in humans requires DNA polymerase theta (POLQ), which is over-expressed in many cancers. It drives tumor evolution and is a targetable vulnerability in cancers with specific DNA repair deficiencies.
Program of the day
15:30-16.00 Doors open
16.00-16.10 Introduction to BII and subject of the day
16.10-16.40 Targeting DNA repair vulnerabilities in cancers
16.40-17.00 Fireside chat and questions
17.00-17.30 Informal networking and closing reception
About Simon Boulton:
Simon studied Molecular Biology at the University of Edinburgh and did his PhD at the University of Cambridge with Prof. Steve Jackson (Gurdon Institute). He then conducted EMBO and HFSP funded postdoctoral fellowships at Harvard Medical School, Boston, with Prof. Nick Dyson (MGH Cancer Centre) and Prof. Marc Vidal (Dana Farber Cancer Institute). In 2002, he returned to the UK to establish the DSB Repair Metabolism Laboratory at Cancer Research UK, London Research Institute, Clare Hall Laboratories. He is now a Principal group leader and Assistant Research Director for Translation at the Francis Crick Institute.
Simon’s research has provided fundamental insights into the mechanisms of DNA repair and telomere maintenance and how defects in these processes can be exploited for the treatment of cancer. His work on DNA double strand break (DSB) repair revealed the existence of a backup DNA repair pathway important in cancer cells, identified how homologous recombination (HR) is executed and constrained in cells, proved how telomeres protect the ends of linear chromosome and discovered that this process is fundamentally different in pluripotent, somatic and cancer cell states. Simon’s research is currently focused on targeting genetic vulnerabilities in cancers dependent on alternative lengthening of telomeres. Importantly, Simon’s discoveries have paved the way for a spinout company (Artios Pharma Ltd) and the development of novel DNA repair inhibitors, which are currently in phase II clinical trials to improve outcomes in cancer patients.
As co-founder and VP Science Strategy of Artios Pharma Ltd, Simon provides R&D advice and assists the executive team in the evaluation of new pipeline opportunities from the global DNA repair network. Simon is also Director of RadNet City of London, a Cancer Research UK initiative to accelerate our understanding of radiation biology to improve treatments for cancer patients. He is also the Crick lead on an EPSRC funded Prosperity Partnership with GSK that is developing a chemical biology platform around reactive-fragment chemistry. With his background in translation and commercialization, Simon works closely with the Crick Translation Team to promote translation at the Crick, serving on the steering committees for our industry partnerships and our translation advisory group. Finally, Simon chairs the Discovery Research Committee for Cancer Research UK, serves on the Bioscience and Biomedicine Committee for the Novo Nordisk Foundation and provides ad hoc advice to various start-up and venture investment firms.
Simon is an EMBO Member, Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Society. He has also been awarded the Colworth Medal, the Royal Society Francis Crick Medal, the EMBO Gold Medal and the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research.