Prior to his appointment as an assistant professor of chemistry at Holy Names University (HNU) in 2010, Tsze Tsang, PhD, worked as a senior scientist in the medicinal chemistry department at Exelixis, a biotechnology company in South San Francisco, California. As part of a team working on new cancer drugs discovery at Exelixis, Tsang helped discover cobimetinib (brand name Cotellic), a drug for the treatment of advanced melanoma. After a favorable initial clinical trial (phase I) in 2006, the drug was licensed to Genentech, who oversaw all subsequent clinical trials (phase II and phase III). On November 10, 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced the approval of Cotellic to be used to treat patients with advanced melanoma.
As co-inventor, Tsang was the first person to synthesize Cotellic, and the potency of the drug in shrinking tumors was confirmed in animal studies in December 2005. The drug then went into clinical trials in 2006. When asked about the development process, Tsang explained that, “Cotellic had to overcome many hurdles such as potential toxicity, side effects, numerous physiological and physical chemical issues, and ultimately showing effectiveness in stopping cancer growth and increasing survival rates for patients. It took 10 arduous years and the efforts of hundreds of dedicated professionals to realize the lifesaving potential of Cotellic.”
The FDA’s approval of the drug was the culmination of a long-term effort for Tsang. “I felt wonderful [upon hearing the announcement] knowing that I have contributed my part to helping relieve the pains of cancer patients and saving lives,” Tsang said. “Cotellic offers a new hope and viable choice of recovery for melanoma patients who are in that dreadful and desperate condition.”
As a professor, Tsang hopes his work can encourage students to devote themselves to further scientific study. “Now that I am an educator, a teacher of science classes, I want the success of the Cotellic story to inspire students to pursue science,” he said. “Perhaps in the future, their scientific knowledge, no matter what field it may be from, can make a difference for humanity.”