PhD in Biochemistry '87
Advisor: Paul Modrich
BS in Pharmacy '77
Taipei Medical College
MS in Biochemistry '79
National Taiwan University
Michael joined Volastra as Chief Scientific Officer. Prior to Volastra, he held the same position at Decibel Therapeutics, and before that, he was co-founder and senior vice president of research and development at Agios Pharmaceuticals where he led drug discovery in the rare genetic diseases franchise.
My Science Beginnings
Science was always dear to my heart. In college, I was intrigued by how one can take a complex physiology function and dissect it to a molecular level.
I had always wanted to come to Duke— it was one of the top biochemistry departments in the country with a strong group of researchers and I knew the advanced degree would excel my career development. Biochemistry, as well as molecular biology, were of my greatest interests; so, receiving my acceptance from Duke was a dream come true.
I’ve had a bit of a non-traditional career path, going into drug discovery rather than academia. I started my career in the biotech industry in 1990 after my postdoc fellowship at Harvard. I worked at Vertex Pharmaceuticals on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases and kinase drug discovery for oncology from 1990 to 2004. In 2008, I co-founded Agios Pharmaceuticals, a company working on developing drugs targeting dys-regulation of cancer cell metabolism. I was a senior leader of a team that researched the oncogenic causes for the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH1 and IDH2) mutant enzymes which led to a drug (IDH2 mutant inhibitor, IDHIFA) approved for relapse and refractory AML carrying IDH2 mutation. A second drug against IDH1 mutant enzyme is now awaiting approval by the FDA.
Currently, I’m the Chief Scientific Officer at Decibel Therapeutics, looking for drugs to heal hearing loss in people from children to the elderly and even patients who suffer hearing loss from chemotherapy treatment. It’s a field ripe for discovery—there isn’t a single drug that treats hearing loss and our work at Decibel is at a critical stage where we can really make a difference.
At Agios, when we discovered the IDH mutant enzymes and identified their novel function, we investigated the role of oncogenic metabolites in blocking the differentiation of cancer cells, designed inhibitors, and took them into clinical study. Because we worked so closely with scientists from different fields, demonstrating the drug’s benefits and safety, the period from the discovery of IDH2 mutant enzyme to the approval of IDHIFA was in record time—going from concept to bedside in eight years. Being involved in the whole drug development process was very rewarding.
A Bit of Advice
A PhD training opens up different career opportunities and that passion is your key to success.