PhoenixMD is a privately-held clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company designing precise cancer therapeutics and companion diagnostics by targeting kinases, a class of highly druggable enzymes to treat a wide range of oncology indications. PhoenixMD is focused on developing first-in-class inhibitors against RSK, an important drug target for cancer, heart disease, and inflammation.
Founder Interview with Sandra E. Dunn, PhD
Chief Executive Officer, Phoenix Molecular Designs
Your team has brought forward FDA-approved CDK4/6, PARP, ER and PIK3CA oral selective small molecule inhibitors. At the very beginning of PhoenixMD’s life, what was the most challenging bump in the road? What advice can you give to other founders around this?
I knew when the company was founded that we have a unique product, PMD-026, that holds not only promise but, more importantly, hope for patients. One of our early challenges was that our preclinical team required a roadmap for getting it from point A to B, so of course, we stopped for fuel and asked for directions. Fuel being investors who genuinely believe in the cause and directions from the assembled team of experts. We were very fortunate to have been able to build a strong foundation. One of the most valuable pieces of advice I would give to other founders is to develop and surround yourself with a strong team who has the same values and is committed to going the distance. I would encourage any founder to take their time, find those unique, talented, key people who will help you advance in this challenging space.
The aforementioned molecule inhibitors released by PhoenixMD are in relation to breast cancer. Although you also focus on other cancers, do you predict PhoenixMD might expand their expertise in the future?
We are always looking to innovate in diagnostics and therapeutics because healthcare requires that type of forward-thinking to improve existing approaches. Oncology is where we started but we are open to exploring other disease processes that rely heavily on our target, especially with other known expert groups in the field. I believe the road we are on will potentially lead to other opportunities to help patients and improve their health outcomes. We are open to new challenges and excited to see what is in future for PhoenixMD.
What is it about your role at Phoenix Molecular Designs that inspires you daily to continue innovating?
I am motivated by knowing that there are women with breast cancer who need better treatment options. We have come a very long way in developing therapies for breast cancer but there is still so much more work that needs to be done.
Phoenix Molecular has made real waves through achievements such as successful clinical trials and financing raises in the past. What types of positive changes and impact has PhoenixMD made in patients’ lives?
Hope. I know that simply offering an option for them in an already desperate situation provides hope. We have made this trial as accessible as possible and strive to eliminate disparities/inequities with bilingual labelling, remote telehealth visits, and opening sites across the USA.
PMD-026, our first- and potentially best-in-class orally administered small molecule RSK inhibitor, can be taken in the comfort of the patients’ home. PMD-026 is also generally well-tolerated, and there are limited reported side effects compared to other similar treatments available. As well, a unique feature of our therapies is they are designed to prevent cancer from returning. I imagine a day when we can tell patients that wonderful news. In the first round of our clinical trials, we began to see changes in tumor size on our determined safe dose.
We are entering the second part of our Phase 1 trial, which enrolls metastatic triple negative breast cancer patients who no longer respond to conventional and recently approved therapies. This part of the trial may further bolster any efficacy signals showing that our asset can be a new option for those in the later stages of their disease history. This is an exciting time for PhoenixMD, as our goal has always been to improve patient care. It is what drives us. We want to build on this hope and take action by bringing PMD-026 forward for the patients we serve.
Dr. Sandi Dunn founded Phoenix Molecular Designs in 2012, following the identification of a novel approach to treating TNBC, the deadliest form of breast cancer. The discovery of RSK as a prime target for TNBC came from functional genomic screens in her laboratory. Dr. Dunn has spent more than 27 years as a breast cancer researcher and, as such, has served on multiple oversight committees, including Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program (USA) and the Susan Komen Foundation. She was the youngest member of the DOD Breast Cancer Research Program in the early 1990s and was recognized for her commitment to the field during her early days as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. Sandi is passionate about making a difference in the lives of people suffering from cancer and is firmly dedicated to treatments relating to breast cancer. This was inspired by personal experiences with the disease in her family, as it impacted several generations of women. Her broad range of experience in private industry, government and academia have prepared her to lead PhoenixMD, where they are working to change the outcomes for women with breast cancer by developing a selective new drug to uniquely attack the cancer cells in a way that has not been done before. She has led multinational oncology research projects to advance the development of novel cancer therapeutics and has built amazing teams to achieve these goals. Over the past three decades, she has raised millions of dollars to fund cancer research and has built one of the few female-led biotechnology companies specifically aimed at eradicating breast cancer.