Meet the researcher: Ali Tavassoli

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DDW’s Megan Thomas talks to Ali Tavassoli, Chief Scientific Officer of Curve Therapeutics and Professor of Chemical Biology at the University of Southampton, UK. 

MT: Where do you work, and can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment? 

AT: We spun Curve out of my academic group five years ago to commercialise a genetically-encoded high throughput screening platform that allows the generation and screening of libraries of millions of cyclic peptides inside mammalian cells. This platform has several advantages over existing drug discovery approaches, as the screen takes place inside a disease-relevant mammalian cell, with the targeted protein correctly decorated with post-translational modifications, and dynamic so that allosteric and cryptic pockets are exposed and available for inhibitor engagement. We are using this platform at Curve to identify inhibitors against some of the most challenging cancer targets and working to take them to the clinic.

MT: What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

AT: Spinning out Curve and watching it succeed has definitely been a highlight. I have always been looking to apply the research from my academic group for patient benefit, and it is incredibly exciting and satisfying to be part of the team that is driving this work towards the clinic at Curve.

MT: What industry-wide drug discovery breakthrough has most impacted your research?

AT: The advent of next generation sequencing has had a major impact on the field of drug discovery. It is a critical part of our screening workflow, and is widely deployed throughout biotech and pharma; I am surprised that the inventors have not been awarded a Nobel Prize for this yet.

MT: What has been the best piece of career advice you have received? 

AT: I was speaking to a senior colleague, someone I have looked up to for a long time, around the time my first son was born. I was a bit of a workaholic at that point, and he told me to make sure to prioritise family over work, that work will always be there, but that my kids would grow quickly, and I would regret missing that time with them. It is by far the best piece of advice I have ever received.

MT: What advice would you offer someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

AT: It is important to enjoy what you do, as it takes a lot of your time and effort, especially at the start. Also, learn to say no to the less important things that make demands on your time.

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