Getting to know Bruce Lefker, Genialis SAB member

Tell us about your background

I spent 30 years with Pfizer in medicinal chemistry, and a large focus of my work centered on finding the right molecule for the right target in the right tissue. We wanted to be sure we could impact the disease locally without impacting healthy cells located in other areas of the body. My roles in drug discovery have spanned identification of starting points through the identification of clinical candidates for advancement into human clinical trials. 

Is there one drug or project you were most proud to work on during your career thus far?

One example of a project focused on the brain and ties directly into the work Genialis is doing. With one indication we needed to modulate a target in the bone marrow while minimizing drug exposure to the periphery and the brain. In less than a year we were able to move from identification of hit molecules through in vivo and in vitro toxicology studies and ultimately into human clinical trials. In another project, we had over 100,000 data points of different molecules and we needed to answer, “How can we rapidly identify molecules that are well-absorbed, have slow enough metabolism in the liver, and a low potential for toxicity?” With our colleagues in computational chemistry, we were able to build a series of models to quickly plug in the information and find X molecule will have Y permeability. This toolkit was applied broadly to other projects to make better decisions of which molecules to synthesize, and which to advance to the next phase.

What interested you most in joining the SAB for Genialis?

To move a project forward, you need to modulate the specified target at the right concentration via your chosen route of delivery without safety issues. This requires coordination across workstreams with various groups outside of your own. One reason I am excited to join the SAB is because of the ability to contribute to projects outside of my previous experience where I will be able to apply my extensive drug discovery experience and decision making capabilities. My previous work has been across many different diseases, helping answer questions like what data would you use or assemble to make a decision that will rapidly advance your project? Or how do we better rank order targets that are more likely to have superior efficacy for tumor types with a favorable safety profile? Finding these solutions for our partners will help us all make smarter decisions about projects that we pursue. 

Every scientist and health professional has been dedicating their knowledge to helping in the COVID-19 pandemic. Where are you hoping to make contributions?

In early 2020, as the disease had taken hold in China and started to spread around the world, I joined Moonshot, an international group of scientists from academia and industry trying to make rapid progress towards effective anti-COVID drugs. This project is very exciting and fast paced with many extremely talented scientists contributing. All intellectual property involving identities of compounds developed under this project will be made openly available in the public domain without patent or any other form of intellectual property restrictions. Funding is primarily being raised through a GoFundMe account managed by PostEra, Inc. 

Let’s know you on an interpersonal level. What is your:

Top book recommendation: 
Mountains Beyond Mountains, Paul Farmer

Ideal vacation spot: 
Bonaire for snorkeling

Preferred pet: 
A small, cute dog like a miniature poodle

Favorite dinner companion: 
My partner Laura

Time travel destination: 
Not a destination, but a future state: A world without war and poverty, everyone has quality healthcare, a roof over their head, enough to eat, and can easily change jobs or career if that’s where their heart leads them.