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Saïd Sebti named associate director for basic research at VCU Massey Cancer Center

An NCI Outstanding Investigator Awardee and a pioneer in drug discovery and development, Sebti holds 80 patents and several technology licenses

Saïd Sebti

Drug discovery, design and development expert Saïd M. Sebti, Ph.D., has been named associate director for basic research and the Lacy Family Chair in Cancer Research at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center as well as a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the VCU School of Medicine, effective July 1, 2019.

Sebti comes to VCU from H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, where he has held several leadership positions, including the Manuel and Adeline Garcia endowed professor and chair of the Department of Drug Discovery, and co-leader of the Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine program. He is also the chief scientific officer at Prescient Therapeutics, a small molecule drug development company focused on new cancer medicines that originated from two drugs pioneered by Sebti and colleagues.

“We are very pleased to welcome Dr. Sebti to Massey Cancer Center to oversee our basic research programs,” said Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center. “He brings extensive expertise and experience in laboratory and translational research, teaching and administration to a leadership position critical to Massey’s long-term growth and continued success as a nationally leading cancer center. Moreover, with his strength in driving bench-to-bedside science and delivering drugs into the clinic, he will be instrumental in helping us to advance the development of the novel molecules that we currently have in the translational pipeline, bringing about new and better treatments for our cancer patients.”

As the associate director for basic research at Massey, Sebti will serve on the cancer center’s Executive Committee and will play a key role in defining and implementing the strategic vision of basic science research at Massey. He will provide oversight and evaluation of Massey’s basic research programs and initiatives, and he will collaborate with laboratory investigators to facilitate interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary collaboration and to focus their work on Massey’s scientific priorities and the cancer burden of its patients. He will also work closely with Massey’s physician-scientists and associate directors for translational research, clinical research, disparities research and cancer prevention and control to move promising new scientific concepts into clinical trials and to develop novel therapeutic agents.

“I believe that building a strong foundation in the basic sciences is one of the major pillars to accomplish Massey’s mission to relieve suffering and death from cancer,” said Sebti. “Basic science discoveries will lead to understanding the causes of cancer, which in turn will lead to outstanding translational research that will benefit cancer patients.”

Sebti’s scientific discoveries have led to the publication of more than 300 peer-reviewed manuscripts, 80 patents, several technology licenses and two anti-cancer drugs that have been tested in clinical trials. He has been continuously grant funded by the National Cancer Institute since 1989 and has received more than $60 million in funding from the NCI, National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society and others. He received three 5-year National Cooperative Drug Discovery Awards, and in 2016 he was the recipient of the prestigious NCI R35 Outstanding Investigator Award, which provided $6.4 million over seven years. He was elected to the National Academy of Inventors in 2016, and he was recognized by Nature journal in 2015 and 2017 as one of the top 20 translational researchers and by his peers as Scientist of the Year at Moffitt in 2005 and 2016. He has served on several professional and scientific societies, committees, boards, academic journals and study sections, and has chaired mini-symposia at professional conferences. Furthermore, he has team-taught several courses and mentored over 60 junior physician-scientists, postdoctoral trainees and graduate and undergraduate students.

Sebti’s research has centered on investigating the basic mechanisms by which normal cells become cancerous, with emphasis on aberrant signal transduction pathways, particularly those driven by KRas, and developing drugs that interfere with such pathways. He has made major contributions to the mechanisms by which KRas causes cancer and identified several drugs that interfere with these processes, including inhibitors of farnesyltransferase, geranylgeranyltransferase and glycogen synthase kinase 3. He has also identified drugs that interfere with other cancer-causing pathways, including those mediated by Akt, ROCK, Aurora kinase, STAT3, Bcl2/Bax, p53/mdm2 and the proteasome. Some of these have reached clinical trials, notably the Akt inhibitor TCN-P (AKA PTX200) and the GGT-1 inhibitor GGTI-2418 (AKA PTX100) that are currently being developed by Prescient Therapeutics.

“Dr. Sebti’s prominence in drug discovery, design and development and his success in mentoring further strengthen our school’s excellence in conducting quality, impactful research and training,” said Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and executive vice president for medical affairs at VCU Health System. “His addition will not only benefit our school, the cancer center, the university and the health system, but also the field of biomedical sciences and the cancer community.”

Sebti earned his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Washington State University in 1980 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue University in 1984. After a post-doctoral fellowship in pharmacology at Yale University, he joined the University of Pittsburgh Department of Pharmacology where he was associate professor with tenure before joining Moffitt Cancer Center in 1996 to build and direct its drug discovery program. Also at Moffitt, Sebti served as chair of the Department of Drug Discovery, co-program leader of Molecular Oncology and Drug Discovery, co-program leader of Chemical Biology and Molecular Medicine and as a member of several leadership committees. He helped build three shared facilities, including Chemistry, Structural Biology and High Throughput Screening, and he was an integral part of the team that was responsible for preparing and successfully obtaining and then renewing NCI designation and comprehensive status for Moffitt.

“I am delighted to serve as associate director for basic research and the Lacy Family Chair in Cancer Research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center as well as professor of pharmacology and toxicology at VCU,” said Sebti. “Massey is at a pivotal time, poised to make an even bigger impact on translating outstanding basic discoveries from the bench to the clinic to the community. I am honored to be part of the team that will lead this vision to practice.”

Sebti and his wife, Michele, have three children and enjoy traveling, hiking and spending time with their children and grandchildren. They look forward to exploring and learning about the rich culture and history of Richmond and its surrounding areas.

Written by: Jenny Owen

Posted on: May 20, 2019