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Fighting Cancer with Red Blood Cells

Posted on October 11th, 2017 by in Pharma R&D

Researchers are always looking for new ways to attack cancer, and the scientists at Boston-based biotech start-up Rubius Therapeutics have happened upon an unexpected ally: the red blood cell.

“Red blood cells are typically ignored in the immune system. Most people don’t really pay attention to it, and there’s a lot of properties in red blood cells that are very helpful for therapeutics,” explains Tiffany Chen, a senior scientist at Rubius. “Our technology is basically functionalizing these cells so they’re no longer what red blood cells are used for, which is oxygen transport. They are now a new type of drug.”

Rubius president Torben Straight Nissen says that when people hear about his company’s approach to cancer treatment, “The first reaction we always get is ‘Wow, why didn’t anyone think about this before? It seems like such a natural thing to do’. ” The Red-Cell Therapeutics (RCTs) that Rubius is working at developing could be groundbreaking, and the team is animated by the possibility of creating cancer therapies that could have fewer side effects and require less-frequent treatments for patients.

While Rubius’s team—currently numbered at 45—are certainly driven by the excitement of working on the start-up’s innovative platform, naturally many of them can also relate on a personal level to the importance of their mission. “Growing up, we all had family members that suffered from severe disease, whether that be heart failure, cancer or immune disease. And when I heard about Rubius Therapeutics’ technology, it’s just so transformative, I had to join,” says Nissen.

Because Rubius is a start-up, and because they are working on such innovative research, it is especially critical for them to have access to the latest and most reliable information. “It’s very important for us to always be at the cutting edge in terms of understanding the competition, understanding novel treatments that are out there, but also understanding the opportunity landscapes, so information is really important for us,” Nissen emphasizes.

That’s where Elsevier offers significant value. Since Rubius was one of a select group of pharma and biotech start-ups chosen last year to be a part of Elsevier’s new initiative The Hive, they get complimentary access to Elsevier R&D Solutions, such as ScienceDirect. “Getting to papers, looking at what other people do, it’s really basic. I mean, you cannot do science without it,” says senior scientist Sivan Elloul.

VP of Research & Development Tom Wickham claims, “It really allows us to do things we haven’t been able to do before in drug development. For instance, in a whole new disease area, finding information about that disease and the biology behind that disease, it really allows us a very quick way of getting the information that we need.”

Companies like Rubius appreciate that these tools help them in such a wide variety of ways, whether it’s getting informed in a new scientific subject area, or something more business-oriented, like finding skilled collaborators to work with. Perhaps most important of all, a solution like ScienceDirect allows the team to grow their knowledge. As senior scientist Omid Harandi puts it, “Every discovery contributes to other discoveries, and we learn from each other as a community. ScienceDirect provides that tool for us.”

Rubius co-found and Chief Innovation Officer Avak Kahvejian builds on that notion: “Information is what allows us to not only inspire ideas, but to actually perform thought experiments,” he says. “If this is true, maybe this other thing is true. Whether if someone has done that experiment, whether if someone has made such an observation, it allows you to have a retrospective laboratory, if you will, on which to innovate.”

Innovation is at the very heart of the mission at Rubius Therapeutics, and it is this combination of inspired ideas, hard work, persistence and access to greater scientific knowledge that will help them advance in their efforts to develop life-changing cancer therapies.

Watch the video to hear more from the Rubius team.

To find out more, follow The Hive: 

All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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