Introducing Cathy Tralau-Stewart

Highlights, Heroes, and Her Drug Discovery Journey

What made you become a scientist?

Science and particularly scientific research were always fascinating to me. I still have my microscope that I received for my ninth birthday! The idea that you, as a scientist, could see and understand something that no one had previously was a big driver. The natural next step was applying this insight to making an impact on human disease.

What do you see as your career highlights and how did you get started in drug discovery?

I think I have a few personal highlights. After my degree and then oncology PhD, it was clear that the way to be involved in bringing science to patients was to work in drug discovery. I moved to GSK to understand how to do this. While there, I was part of teams that discovered and developed multiple drugs (including Salmeterol, Fluticasone Propionate, Fluticasone Furoate, Umeclidinium, Dusteride, Sumitriptan) which had a direct impact on patients’ quality of life. You don’t forget the letters from parents! This is a real driver to do more. Later, being involved in moving innovative academic science towards drugs which patients need was exciting and many projects I have been involved in are now in development, it’s been enthralling. 

Who are your science heroes?

I have been fortunate to meet and work with many exceptional scientists in the UK and USA. It is challenging to choose a few but these stand out:

In the UK, Sir James Black, Physician and Pharmacologist inventor of Beta-blockers and H2 receptor antagonists for heart disease and GI ulcers. He questioned and understood pharmacology in a hugely impactful way. I was fortunate to briefly interact with him in his last years and was very honoured to get to discuss the future of drug discovery with him. I also enjoyed working with Sir Richard Sykes (Ex- Chair of GSK) at Imperial College London.  

In California, I was fortunate to interact with many great scientists including Jennifer Doudna (CRISPR).  Stanley Cohen (recombinant DNA technology), Carolyn Bertozzi (Bio-orthogonal chemistry). I see these as significant scientific role models who are genuinely interested in using science to help patients.

What attracted you to C4XD?

I am keen to be involved in more successful drug development. C4XD has an excellent track record of delivering differentiated assets and leads. It is a great and efficient team with strong leadership, and which is implementing technology to improve drug discovery success. I was attracted to be a part of this team and deliver more exciting molecules for unmet patient need.

Tell us about your role as Chief Scientific Officer and what you are hoping to achieve at C4XD?

It is a great opportunity but challenging to take on the role after the excellent success that Craig Fox has achieved with C4XD. Clearly, I hope to continue that success and deliver impactful molecules by using the expertise of the C4XD team. This will require good target choice and effective use of the technologies we have. The development of partnerships with other technology providers and target discovery groups is likely to be required and all of this must be focused at delivering high quality differentiated candidates in areas of real unmet patient need. I hope that I can apply what I have learned on my drug discovery journey to help to enable this. 

How does C4XD differ from the companies you have previously worked for?

Each role has been different. I have worked for big Pharma companies and large academic institutions. The most obvious difference between C4XD and big Pharma is size and the strategies, hierarchies and decision-making processes that are required with large organisations. It is difficult for all scientists to impact decisions at every level in these large organisations. In C4XD, small teams enable everyone to input their expertise into formulating the optimal approach. I hope that we can achieve this whilst delivering a clear scientific-driven strategy. Working in academia is of course very different to industry with a wide breadth of focus. However, I strongly believe that we need to harness academic innovation to deliver future therapeutics.

What are some of the projects you’re excited about getting involved in at C4XD?

All of the projects are exciting by their nature. The pipeline projects need to deliver, and we need to ensure that the optimal evaluation projects are chosen, and the pipeline expanded. I look forward to being involved in developing the future pipeline.

What are some of the challenges facing drug discovery as we head into 2022 and beyond?

The ongoing challenge will always be how discovery is funded. The recent limited returns of high-profile biotechs in the markets will impact fundraising in the near future. Small molecule approaches need to deliver in light of the growing portfolio of exciting new approaches (biologics, gene editing, gene therapy and cell therapy). 

What is your vision for the future of small molecule drug discovery?

We need to demonstrate and develop approaches to differentiating small molecules versus both competing small molecules and the newer biological approaches. Ensuring that the newer technologies (Conformetrix, AI, ML, Virtual screening, Tax 3) are demonstrated to deliver efficiencies in the drug discovery process and good new targets will be key going forward. We need to effectively implement these new technologies to improve the delivery of candidates with lower cost and time.

And on a personal note…

What are you currently reading?
I have just finished ‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood. Fascinating and scary!

What do you like to do in your free time?
Walking, enjoying family time and reading

What’s your hidden talent?
This is difficult! My husband suggested an ability to kill plants very quicky!

How do you take your tea/coffee?
Tea. Strong, no sugar, lots of mugs.

What’s the best film/tv show you’ve watched recently?
Munich, Robert Harris, Netflix

Somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit?

Are you a morning bird or a night owl?
Morning (although I wasn’t always that way!)

What is your guilty pleasure?
Chocolate (not good for a diabetic)

What word of advice would you give your younger self?
Take more risks, challenge yourself, follow your passion, ensure that you are heard.