Pathfinders Podcast

Biotech with a Mission to Target Unmet Cancer Needs

IDEAYA’s drug development programs center around addressing unmet patient needs. Its founder tells Pathfinders in Biopharma why he believes there has never been more opportunity for breakthroughs in the fight against cancer.

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By Hosted by Joseph Coletti
Featuring Yujiro Hata, President and CEO, IDEAYA

Published May 31, 2024 | 3 min read
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Key Points

  • Coinciding advances in AI and genetic sequencing open opportunity for drug breakthroughs.
  • IDEAYA uses the emerging area of synthetic lethality to identify targets for cancers previously seen as untreatable.
  • It believes it is the first company to deliver development candidates linked to enzymes known as helicases.
  • Multiple partnerships with pharma companies enable IDEAYA to have more molecules in development.

Tech intersection brings promise

“I’ve never been more excited than I am today about being in the arena of precision medicine oncology as a public traded company,” says Yujiro Hata.

The President and CEO of IDEAYA Biosciences sees vast potential in the accumulation of genetic sequencing data, combined with computational therapy and advances in AI and machine learning.

Some have hailed a golden age of cancer treatment: Hata dubs the current phase as “golden age exponential”.

“Often, where the greatest advances happen is when you have these intersections of technology revolutions,” he believes. “Those intersections ultimately will create new therapies and tremendous breakthroughs.”

“I’ve never been more excited than I am today about being in the arena of precision medicine oncology.”

Yujiro Hata, President and CEO, IDEAYA Biosciences

 

Filling the gap of unmet need

IDEAYA aims to be at the forefront of those innovations. It focuses on an emerging area of precision medicine oncology: synthetic lethality.

The company uses CRISPR gene editing technology to identify new patient biomarkers and identify targets with a high chance of treatment success.

While most work in the precision medicine space has focused on genetic mutations that cause gain of function, IDEAYA concentrates on the opposite phenomenon, alterations that cause loss of function in a pathway which have traditionally been viewed as untreatable.

“Over half of genetic alterations that are known to cause cancer are loss-of-function alterations. That means for the large majority of these patients, we have not been able to provide important therapies,” he says. “We hope to fill that gap.”

 

Pioneering ambition

The firm has built significant know-how in its nine years of existence. It has four first-in-class programs in clinic and aims to deliver several further candidates by the end of 2024.

Hata believes it is the first company to deliver back to back development candidates linked to enzymes known as helicases.

He sees AI and machine learning as important tools to enhance efficiency, squeeze timelines and increase the probability of success. These technologies have until now been applied mainly to targets where drugs already exist.

“Although that’s interesting, it’s not really a breakthrough,” he says. IDEAYA’s focus is on targets that have been viewed as “undruggable”: “That’s going to require really pioneering work – not just an understanding of AI and machine learning, but really significant sophistication around cancer biology, as well as basic medicinal chemistry.”

Hata is not content to pursue paths carved out by others. “Our objective is not to have the fourth or fifth molecule in the clinic and be behind the competition, but instead to really be the pioneer, hopefully be the first or second molecule in the clinic, and really define a whole new space of cancer.”

“Our objective is not to have the fourth or fifth molecule in the clinic and be behind the competition, but instead to really be the pioneer.”

Yujiro Hata, President and CEO, IDEAYA Biosciences

 

Pharma collaborations add muscle

Partnerships with pharma companies are key to IDEAYA’s push for success. Celgene and Novartis were among the early investors, and today the firm collaborates with names such as Pfizer, Amgen, Gilead, GSK, and Merck.

That list will grow, Hata pledges, to help expand the number of molecules IDEAYA has in clinic at any point. “Smart partnerships enable the company to have scale,” he explains.

The company will continue to prioritize innovation in areas where treatments do not yet exist while acknowledging that this can be time-consuming and entail greater risk: “If we continue to focus on unmet medical need, we’re going to have a great path forward,” said Hata.


View audio transcript


Yujiro Hata

Yujiro Hata
President and CEO, IDEAYA

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