The ‘detective’ researcher hoping to fight cancer with a single dose

By Sue White

Name: Dr Clare Slaney
The profession: Cancer research
The organisation: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre & Currus Biologics
The title: Senior research fellow and scientific adviser
The pay: A typical salary for a senior research fellow ranges between $125,000 and $145,000pa.

Senior research fellow Dr Clare Slaney says her work is like a detective’s.
Senior research fellow Dr Clare Slaney says her work is like a detective’s.

8am: Currus Biologics is an early-stage Australian biotech company, and the work I do for them is similar to that of a detective, looking for hidden clues to revolutionise the way cancer is treated.

Having been exposed to the devastating effects of losing a loved one to cancer, knowing I’m working on a therapy that has the potential to effectively treat solid cancers with one single injection is a true motivator for me.

I love to start my day over a coffee and a catch-up with colleagues. Then, I try to squeeze in a quick trip to the gym, sometimes even taking meetings on a treadmill! It really gets me energised.

My research looks at treating solid cancer tumours – such as breast, lung, pancreatic and ovarian – with CAR T cell therapy, using a technique my supervisor, Professor Michael Kershaw, and I invented together. It involves using a patient’s own immune system to fight these solid cancers with one single dose.

Promising results drew attention from investors in the biotechnology industry and led to the creation of Currus Biologics. It’s a spinout company dedicated to helping us translate our technology from a research concept to a life-saving cancer treatment. We are fortunate to have raised $10 million of venture capital, which is being used to fund our journey.

This is why I now wear two hats: maintaining my research laboratory and providing scientific input to Currus Biologics, which is led by experienced drug developers.

We are truly grateful as many early-stage therapies do not become a reality due to lack of funding, which can be a real challenge in the biotechnology space in Australia.

Advertisement

9am: In my role as a senior researcher I spend the majority of my time in the office, and the remainder in the laboratory. Office time starts with an international call with my scientist colleagues in the US, who conduct additional experiments beyond those here at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

These calls are extremely valuable. They allow me to obtain and exchange global expertise from fellow experts, which I can use to help advance our work. The international collaboration also reminds me of the impact a treatment could potentially have around the world.

10am: The rest of my morning is spent designing new experiments before I head to the laboratory. Working in the laboratory is the highlight of my day. As you become more senior in research you spend less time there, so I try to make the most of it.

Noon: In the lab I meet with my students and research assistants to discuss progress, reflecting on any successes or failures and focusing on how we can improve. I get a thrill from mentoring the next generation of researchers. I guide them through the new experiments I’ve designed, observing and answering any questions. I help them troubleshoot any issues by going through the process in detail.

2pm: One of the most fascinating parts of my work is seeing the positive data and results that have been generated from our experiments. There’s no better feeling than knowing you’re one step closer to being able to save a patient’s life.

4.30pm: As my day begins to wind down, I focus on other initiatives I am a part of, such as the ‘Scientists at the Clinic’ program. This allows researchers to follow a patient’s cancer journey to gain insight into how they are diagnosed, what treatment is administered and how they respond.

The patient journey is a sad and challenging part of my work, and when I chose a research path I underestimated how difficult it would be. Yet, the emotion I feel when I’m one step closer to developing a therapy with the potential to save a patient’s life reminds me of why it’s all worth it.

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in Business

Source: Thanks smh.com