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Bristol Area Lions hear from Local Drug Scientist 05/20/2015

Posted by DS in meetings, speakers.
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New member Alfred Ajami (left) is thanked for his informative biography of his work by Lion Tom Rodrigues.

New member Alfred Ajami (left) is thanked for his informative biography of his work by Lion Tom Rodrigues.

At their May 18 meeting the Bristol Area Lions heard from their newest member, Alfred Ajami who titled his talk: “The Adventures of an Itinerant Drug Hunter”
Ajami was born in Caracas, Venezuela to an American mother, both parents with a Lebanese background. Raised in Caracas until age 13, then he was sent off to St. Paul’s, a boarding school in New England; ”presumably to become a gentleman and not a follower of Fidel Castro”. He graduated from Harvard University with a PhD.

Dr. Ajami began his talk by citing Philippus Teophrastus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1492-1541) known as Paracelsus, who was a role model for any drug hunter, father of modern pharmacology, and prescient about what is now called “personalized” or “precision” medicine.

Dr. Ajami recounted his early years working under two noted scientists as a “lab slave” in charge of a large Waring blender and a still. He was in the Amazon looking for plants with “magic bullet” properties to treat various diseases.
Despite several detours into line and C-level executive management, Dr. Ajami remained an experimental scientist, first in pharmacology, then oncology and immunology.

Dr. Ajami was the co-founder and V.P. of Eco-Control (chemistry discovery), Kor Isotopes (labeled research compounds) a co-founding senior executive of Tracer Technologies (specialty bio-chemicals), Managing Director, Raymar Associates (nuclear imaging isotopes), the founding CEO of Mass Trace (mass spectrometry and biomarker discovery) founding Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) of Phenome Sciences Inc. (metabolomics and personalized medicine). These were venture capital backed enterprises with close ties to the academic community in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He ran the autoimmune research program at Antisoma, Inc., after Antisoma’s acquisition of Xanthus Pharmaceuticals, where he served as the founding CSO in personalized medicines and cancer drug development. At Xanthus, he directly managed laboratory operations from discovery to proof of concept, took three drugs into the clinic and provided technical expertise in support of late stage clinical operations leading into Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials.

Dr. Ajami said a new breakthrough had been made six years ago that is revolutionizing drug development CRISPR/Cas9 genome engineering. The technique allows any piece of DNA to be modified either as a potential therapy or as a testing platform for the effects of different drugs directly on human cells. Nano-engineering to create human organs-on-a-chip, even a human-on-a –chip, using 3D printing is another disruptive innovation that will allow the early development of drugs in a more relevant setting than is currently achieved by using animal models that cannot match the human disease circumstances. These advances, together with the advent of open source “big data” on drug, gene, cell, tissue and disease interactions, all available on the web, will transform how new medicines are found.

Now in semi-retirement, he is currently the founding CEO of DCAM Pharma Inc., a virtual company and consulting practice on drug discovery. His current focus is rare and underserved diseases with an expanding involvement as a mentor to young scientists.

At the business meeting that followed the June meeting was postponed a week, in order that two of our members may attend class night at Lincoln Academy to present our four $2,000 scholarships.

The speaker at the June 8, meeting will be Kathryn Young, L.D. a volunteer denturist and board member of Lincoln County Dental, a non-profit dental clinic. To make dinner reservations for this meeting please call Herb Watson at 677-6191. To learn more about the Bristol Area Lions, serving Bristol and South Bristol please call Walt Johansson at 677-2584.

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