Changing Outcomes for Drug-Resistant Patients
Episode

Stacy Blain, Founder, and CSO at Concarlo Therapeutics

Changing Outcomes for Drug-Resistant Patients

In your lifetime, chances are someone you know will be affected by cancer.

In this episode, Stacy Blain, founder, and CSO of Concarlo Therapeutics talks about how she and a team of scientists are changing outcomes for drug-resistant patients with new classes of drugs. At Concarlo, they are developing new medications that use p27, a natural inhibitor, to stop cancer cells from multiplying in these patients, to enter the first clinical trial in 2024. For her, having an all-scientist team is valuable and has led the way and opened doors in the pharmaceutical field. She also explains why making sure everyone is seen and valued in your lab team ensures they work as a cohesive unit. Stacy encourages everyone to support science and cancer research now, not only when it hits closer to home.

Tune in to this episode to learn about new medications for drug-resistant patients and the science behind them!

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Changing Outcomes for Drug-Resistant Patients

About Stacy Blain:

Dr. Blain is an internationally known expert in cell cycle and cancer biology and has been studying cell cycle regulation for more than 20 years. She is the co-founder of CONCARLO Holdings, LLC, which has the goal of developing diagnostic and therapeutic applications for drug-resistant cancers, by drugging the novel target p27Kip1. CONCARLO’s therapeutic, IpY, will be used to treat drug-resistant, ER/PR+, Her2- metastatic breast cancer patients. CONCARLO’s ApY, is a companion diagnostic to identify patients non-responsive to cdk4 inhibitory therapies and responsive to IpY. CONCARLO has been awarded highly competitive SBIR funding from the NIH and a contract with the NIH Nanoparticle Characterization Lab. 

 

Dr. Blain is also an NIH-funded investigator and Associate Professor in Cell Biology and Pediatrics at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center, who has several basic science and translational projects, studying the role of the oncogene cyclin D-cdk4 and p27 in breast cancer. Her lab is currently funded by the NIH and the METAvivor Foundation.

 

OR_LabOps_StacyBlain: Audio automatically transcribed by Sonix

OR_LabOps_StacyBlain: this mp3 audio file was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the best speech-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors.

Samantha Black:
By building a platform to share challenges, network, and thoughts from leaders, the LabOps Leadership Podcast is elevating LabOps professionals as well as the industry as a whole. With the intent of unlocking the power of LabOps, we deliver unique insights to execute the mission at hand, standardize the practice of LabOps, their development, and training. Welcome to the LabOps Leadership Podcast.

Kerri Anderson:
Hi, I’m Kerri Anderson, and I am one of the co-founders of the LabOps Unite Group. We have a great guest with us today, and with that, Sam, I’ll go ahead and leave it for you to introduce her.

Samantha Black:
Awesome, So thank you, Kerri. Today, we’re so excited to have Dr. Stacy Blain with us. She’s founder and CSO of Concarlo Therapeutics, and we’re really excited for this conversation. Thanks for joining us, Stacy.

Stacy Blain:
Oh, well, thank you for inviting me. Happy to be here to talk to you guys about science and LabOps.

Samantha Black:
Awesome, so first one’s an easy one. Just tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are today and your amazing career.

Stacy Blain:
So I am the founder, as you said, of Concarlo Therapeutics, and I say at the core, I am a scientist, I’m a molecular cellular biologist. I have been in the lab for over 35 years. And in my role as a tenured faculty member at one of the State Universities of New York, I patented some technology. We thought we had a brand new way to develop both diagnostics and therapeutics, so we started Concarlo now five years ago and have been running that, basically taking it from an academic idea to now a company that has assets that will be in our first clinical trial in two years, in 2024, so we’re manufacturing. So I have been a lifetime scientist. I was, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a scientist. Even as a kid, I was the one that took the dissection kit home in fourth grade and continued dissecting that frog all summer, much to my mother’s chagrin, but it was the natural evolution of my career, both through graduate school and my postdoctoral work and then in my own lab, it was always about designing drugs. And so you could say that this is where I was going all along, to be making drugs and helping to change the outcomes for our patients.

Samantha Black:
That’s awesome. No, I love that. I just want to give you an opportunity to dive a little bit deeper into what Concarlo is doing and the technologies that you guys are developing.

Stacy Blain:
Of course, it’s like my favorite thing to talk about. So we are interested in changing outcomes for drug-resistant patients. And while the last 40 years have been a tremendous boon for cancer patients with the advent of precision oncology and then immuno-oncology, we still have work to do. Over 600,000 US citizens will die this year from drug-resistant cancers and so we are really focusing on changing the outcomes for those patients, providing new classes of drugs. And we’re focused really on a novel target where, as far as we know, the only company drugging this target, it’s called p27, and it has the unique ability to control the drivers actually of all cancers, CDK4, CDK6, and CDK2, and it is sort of this master regulator of a cell that helps the cell decide whether it should divide or not divide. And in cancer, the cancer processes, these systems are all messed up and the cell divides all the time. So we’re really harnessing the way nature regulates this process. We’re using p27, sort of nature’s own regulator, and we’re co-opting it, making it, helping it to do its job more efficiently, and hopefully, we’ll be enabling it to shut off the proliferation of cancer in these drug-resistant patients. And as I said, we’re, in manufacturing with our lead right now with the goal of being in our first clinical trial in just two years, 2024, and that’s very exciting. And we will be bringing our therapy to metastatic drug-resistant breast cancer patients, as well as some ovarian patients, melanoma patients, and some other tumor types. So a lot going on right now at Concarlo and really focused on moving our products forward.

Samantha Black:
That’s amazing, yeah, in a past life, I did a lot with cancer research, and those resistant cancers, they’re just, there, there’s such need there for those therapies. So that’s amazing, hats off to you and your team for tackling that. Next, I just wanted to ask you, you’re doing this great research, maybe more from an organization standpoint and management, how are you guys, how do you think that you’re accelerating drug discovery? Obviously, you have this great target and great technology, but from an operational perspective, how do you see your company and your team’s accelerating drug discovery?

Stacy Blain:
You know, that’s a great question. And I think what makes us unique is that almost the entire management team as well as all of our team, we’re all scientists, right? So we think like scientists, and I think that is different than the way business people think. Now, I’m more of a business person as well, and I’ve had to learn that, but I’ve been able to drag my science thinking into that world. As a scientist, right, we have a hypothesis, we design an experiment. If we design the experiment the right way, it’s going to tell us something, even if our hypothesis was wrong. And then we learn from that outcome and design a new hypothesis or new experiments. And I think that is that very sort of data-driven, methodical thinking is a little bit unique in companies sometimes, but that’s the way we function because we are all scientists, we’ve all spent our careers in the lab and we understand the challenges that occur in the lab and how you have to have amazing organization and amazing communication. So I think we bring those skill sets to the leadership of our team, and I think that is also been, you know, we really are the mechanistic experts of this target, p27, and so we’re bringing that power to developing these drugs. And I think that there’s also probably a little bit of, not naïveté, that’s not the right word but the fact that we are scientists and so we are not, we’re a little bit unflappable, right? You know, as a scientist, you have to be prepared for the experiment to not work or to the gel to be ruined, right? And you can’t, I always say to my students and to the people who work for me, and we can’t be so depressed when something doesn’t work, but the flip side is, we can’t be so elated when something does work, right? We have to be sort of Steady Eddie, and that’s the way scientific process works. And I think that has been sort of our special sauce at Concarlo, is that we think like scientists, we act like scientists and that’s, and by being scientists we will be able to really deal with this drug-resistant phenotype in a brand new way.

Samantha Black:
Great, that’s, I love that. I love scientists, so I love it.

Kerri Anderson:
So with that in mind, what are some common struggles that you’ve seen in drug development, and other than being data-driven to kind of recognize those challenges and struggles, what have you worked to overcome those challenges?

Stacy Blain:
I’d say, that’s a great question, and I’d say that our biggest challenge has been breaking into this new field. We came, we were an academic spin out and we weren’t you know, we’re not serial entrepreneurs. This isn’t our 10th company that we’ve done. We can’t just call up the people with the money. We have to really prove ourselves, so I’d say our challenge has also been our benefit, right? That we’ve had to really gain traction by having our science lead the way, having our understanding of the target and understanding of this disease lead the way and open doors for us. And so that’s how we’ve really, again, drawn back on our science, right, the science can speak for us and we’ve used that to get recognition and to get into places that were hard to get into. I’d say the big thing that we really work on as a team is communication and making sure that everyone is seen and valued. Because the way, my leadership style is, I don’t want to be the smartest person in the room in every conversation, I want to surround myself with domain experts, and then bring these people into the organization and then really listen to them and use them. And, A, that’s more fun for me because I’m constantly learning from these amazing, brilliant people that we have in our team. But it also is, no one can know everything, and so really building that team and then communicating with that team, that’s the most important thing, right? You can’t bring these people in there and then just silo them. They have to be, their voices have to be heard and have to be heard by the right people. And, you know, anyone that’s worked in the lab understands that we all are really dependent. It’s very symbiotic, right? Like if you’re all using sort of the same resource pool or the same pieces of equipment and someone doesn’t respect that and uses all the resources or uses the equipment poorly, then it affects the entire organization. So making sure that we all recognize that we’re one team, one goal, we all have value and we all are, everyone’s brilliant who works in our team, I will say, and to recognize that brilliance and let it shine through, that’s how we move the needle on our problem.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, that is so true. I mean, having a great team can get you really far.

Stacy Blain:
That’s the other thing, really listening to the team. It’s not okay just to have a great team. It’s actually making sure they work as one cohesive unit.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, being able to function together, that’s really important. So in LabOps, one thing that we’ve noticed is we all share a common goal of bringing drugs to the market faster. What’s something that you’ve seen or heard that can make a difference in LabOps? Especially because lab operations people, we’re often scientists. We got our start usually at the bench, and so we do share that common vision of bringing drugs to the market.

Stacy Blain:
I think the biggest thing is sort of what we were just talking about, it’s respect. It’s recognizing that you know, we as a country field, we sort of talk about the team of the person at the top, oh, it’s this person’s company, it’s this person’s team. It’s recognition that it is a team that nothing happens without LabOps, nothing happens without the bench scientists, right? Everything else is really just support for those people that are pipetting and working at the bench and dealing with the animals and putting the drugs in boxes, and, you know, those people frequently are unrecognized and that is a problem. So I think that the big issue that what we try to do at Concarlo is really, value everyone and recognize that those are the, that’s the motor, that’s the engine of the entire company. And it doesn’t matter where the idea comes from, it has to be executed upon, and the people that do that are really at the bench, the scientists, they’re doing the heavy duty lifting. And I hope that they feel valued and seen and understand that they are the power behind our company.

Kerri Anderson:
Yeah, absolutely. So one thing I’m curious, I’m sure you’ve had an incredible career, and I’m sure that during that career you’ve encountered some big lessons that you’ve learned. What are some big lessons you’ve learned or what’s even something you’re learning right now?

Stacy Blain:
So I think the big lesson, I’ve learned a lot of lessons and I’ve stumbled a lot and I’ve had a lot of successes. I always say my CV of failure is probably the, equal to my CV of success, right? And I think that is a big lesson that I’ve learned, is that being humble and being, just continuing on, this is what we do. And it’s going to have pitfalls and it’s going to have highs and lows, and as long as you are continuing, then the work will get done. The challenge that we, that keeps me going is the patience. It’s the fact that that number of 600,000 US citizens has been, you know, it’s climbing slightly and it hasn’t really diminished. You know, in the breast cancer space, there’s 40,000 women that are diagnosed in the metastatic setting annually, and about 40,000 die annually, and that is still, that’s what keeps me going. And it’s using the ability, the idea that I can use something that comes out of my brain or the brains of my team to actually change the outcome for drug-resistant patients. That’s an amazing empowerment, right? And so I wake up everyday understanding like, we just need to think really hard and act really efficiently and we can actually make a difference. And that is the biggest thing that I’ve probably learned in my 35-year career, even at the bench, right? Think really hard. Science is trying to tell you something, we just need to listen and we need to persevere. Be that Steady Eddie, don’t be discouraged. There’s going to be a lot of discouragement along the way, but the answers are there if we can just see and stay the course. And so that’s probably what I’ve learned the longest, is that sort of calmness, patience, that things, we can science our way out of most problems, and I think that is particularly where we are in 2020, where we had a lot of problems beyond just cancer in our world. You know, I think science will lead us to the answers in many of these other problems as well, and so I’m very, very proud to be a scientist. I am very proud to be a cancer researcher and hope that I am part of the solution for our drug-resistant patients.

Kerri Anderson:
I love that, I love that science can get us out of this, that’s a great mindset. And it just really shows how much you care about what you do and what you’re working towards. It speaks a lot to who you are. What’s some advice that you can offer our listeners?

Stacy Blain:
I guess my advice would be, if you are in science, stay in science, keep doing what you’re doing. If you’re not in science, I would say support science, right? I mean, that’s something that we all can do and we all can call our congresspeople and make sure that science education, science research, finding cures for disease is front and center in the people that have the money, making sure that we are educating our youth, that we continue to have a pipeline of strong scientists entering the workforce and supporting charities that are working, striving to cure disease, right? So everyone has to do their part. That would be my main piece of advice. It’s, we all sort of, perhaps many people wait until cancer strikes them personally to feel like they can get involved, and so I guess my advice would be, you know, the stats are that in your life, you know, everyone will know someone with cancer, and one in two Americans will have cancer. So don’t wait, you know, do something about it now. Take care of yourself the right way. We all know the things that we’re supposed to be doing, so actually do them, and then support science because we need support from the entire society to do our job as well.

Samantha Black:
Love it, I love that call to action. I think that can speak to every single person out there in the world. So everybody has an impact, I love that. But Dr. Blain, thank you for sharing your story with us. I think, I know I am very inspired by you and the work that you’re doing. So, you know, I want to give people an opportunity to follow you. So where can people find out more about the work that you’re doing, keep updated on your company and the science that your team is doing?

Stacy Blain:
Of course, and we always love to hear from people, so I’d say the easiest place is probably on LinkedIn and you can follow me, Stacy Blain on LinkedIn, or also Concarlo. And then please ask your listeners to check out our website www.concarlo.com, and there’s all kinds of news that we put up there. You can learn about all of our other awesome team members and learn more about our path to changing the outcomes for drug-resistant patients.

Samantha Black:
Amazing, amazing. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Blain. This has been a great conversation. Best of luck with all your endeavors.

Stacy Blain:
Thank you so much. Great to meet both of you and have a great rest of the day.

Samantha Black:
Great, thank you.

Samantha Black:
Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the LabOps Leadership Podcast. We hope you enjoyed today’s guest. For show notes, resources, and more information about LabOps Unite, please visit us at LabOps.Community/Podcast. This show is powered by Elemental Machines.

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Things You’ll Learn:

  • Over 600,000 US citizens will die this year from drug-resistant cancers.
  • An inhibitor called p27 can control the drivers of all cancers, CDK4, CDK6, and CDK2, acting as a master regulator of a cell and allowing it to divide or not.
  • Concarlo is using p27 to shut off the proliferation of cancer in drug-resistant patients.
  • It’s not okay just to have a great team, it’s making sure they work as one cohesive unit.
  • 40,000 women are diagnosed in the metastatic setting annually, and about 40,000 die annually.
  • Bench scientists are key for any lab and company that produces medications.

Resources:

  • Connect with and follow Stacy Blain on LinkedIn.
  • Follow Concarlo Therapeutics on LinkedIn.
  • Discover the Concarlo Therapeutics Website.
  • Connect with and follow co-host Kerri Anderson on LinkedIn.