Friday, June 29, 2012

Speaker Spotlight: Roy D. Baynes, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Vice President of Oncology Therapeutics, Gilead Sciences

Dr. Roy Baynes
Dr. Baynes serves as senior vice president of oncology therapeutics at Gilead Sciences Inc. of Foster City, Calif. There, he oversees a pipeline of products focused on treating chronic lymphocytic leukemia, indolent non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, colorectal cancer, myelofibrosis and pancreatic cancer. “We stand at an incredibly exciting time in cancer research and drug discovery,” said Baynes, who came to Gilead from Amgen, where he served as vice president of global development and as therapeutic area head of hematology oncology. Baynes received his medical degree and doctorate from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.

Q: Cancer is an incredibly challenging field, full of discovery and of setbacks. What first drew you to this kind of research?

A: Firstly, it was about the science. The molecular and biological understanding of disease has always been an integral part of cancer research. In part, this relates to accessibility to tissue from biopsies or, in the case of hematological malignancies, from blood.

The second driver was really an intensely personal one. Most people are touched directly or indirectly by this dreadful disease, cancer. I have had too many close friends and family members who have either done battle with cancer or are doing battle with cancer. I’ve always taken the view that cancer patients just simply cannot wait, which has given a great sense of urgency to cancer research.

And, thirdly, there was the opportunity. Most people who come through academic programs are reasonably multi-talented and can go in any direction. So, oftentimes, it’s a combination of scientific interest, personal motivation and the opportunity. At the time I was ready to start my clinical and research career, the biggest opportunity was in the oncology and hematology arena. I fell in love immediately with the discipline and have been there ever since.

Q: Knowledge about cancer genotypes has led to greater, more targeted treatment for women with breast cancer, especially, and other cancers. What is on the horizon for molecularly targeted therapies?

A: We stand at an incredibly exciting time in cancer research and drug discovery. The biological underpinnings and basis of disease are becoming more clearly understood. Our ability to segment and select patients who will ultimately benefit from specific approaches is being enhanced on a daily basis.

The unmet medical need remains huge. You pull together the rapidly advancing science and biology and the unmet needs related to this grievous condition, cancer, and it’s a very compelling area to be working in.

Gilead has a tremendous history of medicinal chemistry and antiviral drug development. About two years ago, Gilead made a decision to get back into the cancer arena, driven largely by the notion that the molecular understanding had reached a level of sophistication where indeed it lent itself to meaningful drug development.

The company is working quickly to advance the cancer arena and, more specifically, the targeted therapeutics arena. And a lot of this has been built on licensing and acquiring assets. It’s been a thoughtful, deliberate process.

Q: Are there policies at the local, state or federal level that have a significant impact on your work?

A: When it comes to drug discovery, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. I think our goal is to come forward with innovative medicines that can address serious unmet medical needs and transform the lives of patients. So, that’s our guiding principle and, I think, if one stays true to that mission, the policy considerations have to fall in line.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in terms of our July program, “California: Uniting Science & Policy to Advance Cancer Care?”

A: CHI has developed an energizing program with a diverse range of speakers and very topical discussion points relating to oncology. I’m particularly looking forward to the session I’ll be moderating, “The State of Cancer Research in the Golden State,” because I think the Golden State has a tremendous amount to be proud of. As the birthplace of biotechnology, and as home to several prominent academic research centers and a strong biotech industry presence, California has played a key role in the personalized medicine innovation we are seeing in oncology today.

CHI-Advancing California biomedical research and innovation

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