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Welcome to The Short Read, our weekly peek behind the curtain at the people who make this amazing community tick. Make sure to check back every Tuesday for the latest installment.

James Christensen

Dr. James Christensen, CSO & SVP Research, Mirati Therapeutics

James Christensen is working as Chief Scientific Officer at Mirati Therapeutics, looking over discovery research, transnational biology, and diagnostics development. He was driven to work in genomics because he thinks the genomics field is critical to understanding the pathogenesis and progression of human cancers. He as authored, as well as co-authored over 130 peer-reviewed research articles in scientific journals and surprisingly enough found some time doing stand-up comedy, which he claims was remote to anything funny.

Christensen will be speaking in the Panel ‘Effective Target Hunting and Validation for the Genomic Explorer‘ at the Festival of Genomics San Diego in June. You can register or find out more about the panel here

What are you working on right now?

My current role is as CSO of Mirati Therapeutics—a small biotech company focused on discovering and developing targeted cancer therapeutics.  Being in this type of role in a small company in fun and interesting and every day is different.   Activities can range from target/drug discovery, to clinical trial design and diagnostics development, to business development on any given day.  I presently spend most of my time on the preclinical development of agents targeting mutated KRAS and a couple of agents targeting epigenetic defects in human cancers.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your work at the moment?

Trying to make the greatest impact on developing novel cancer agents while consuming the smallest amount of resources.  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  If we are trying to get from a starting point or idea to our end goal of a high quality novel cancer agent it is important to efficiently address hypotheses and make wise decisions along the way so we don’t veer too far off course.  This is not simple because there are so many variables and unpredictable obstacles along the way. 

Name one big development that you would like to see in your field the next 18 months.

The field of immunooncology is very exciting right now and has immense promise.  The improved understanding of why some patients benefit and others don’t and what may cause resistance to immune targeting agents should help better identify the right patients for therapy as well as novel combination strategies designed to overcome resistance factors.  Although immunoncology is exciting I would also like to point out that we should continue to explore targeted oncology approaches.  Targeted oncology (going after genetic Achilles Heels) and immunooncology should intersect down the road and together they have great promise.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I had the good fortune of being able to work on and impact multiple oncology discovery and research projects that eventually became drugs.   At Pfizer, I had the opportunity to work on sunitinib, crizotinib, and palbociclib and help advance these programs  to productive clinical strategies.  It was neat to see these concepts move from idea to reality.

Which scientists, living, dead, or fictional, would you invite to dinner, and why?

My science heroes have been Robert Weinberg and Bert Vogelstein.  They have had many meaningful and lasting impacts over a sustained period and are really good speakers/storytellers. 

What ideas are you most excited to explore when you speak at the San Diego Festival of Genomics in June?

I am interested in advances in genetic engineering and gene editing and the role of genomics in cancer care.

What advice do you wish someone had given you at the start of your career?

I feel very fortunate to have taken the path that I did; however, one realization I could have had earlier is that research is a marathon and not a sprint. 

 


Why not check out The Short Read archives? 

 

George Church 
“Follow Your Dreams, not the Drove”

George Church, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School

Amalio Telenti 
Defying the “Exome-Centric” View

Amalio Telenti

Anna Middleton 
“It’s OK to Be a Bit Creative and Entrepreneurial”

Nan Doyle
“Get Clear on What Matters to You”  

Nan Doyle

David Smith 
The “Real Keys to Scientific Success”

Hannes Smárason 
The Importance of Grit

Hannes Smárason

Eric Topol 
“Always Question; Never Accept Dogma”

Kristen Sund
“You Don’t Change Culture Overnight, it Happens in Baby Steps”

Kristen Sund

Manuel Corpas 
“Don’t Rely on the Future to Make Your Choices Now”

Manuel Corpas

Brendan Gallagher 
“Let Your Work’s Ripple Effects Help Sort the Future Out”

Hayley Robinson
When Technology Outpaces Policy

Hayley Robinson - MGH

Valentina Nardi 
“Like a Detective Solving a Puzzle”

Valentina Nardi

Stephen Kingsmore 
“Don’t Forget to Breathe!”

Stephen Kingsmore

Judith Benkendorf 
“Do Not be Afraid to Look For Mentors” 

Judith Benkendorf

David Flannery
“If Only We Could Predict the Future” 

David Flannery ACMG

Sarah Teichmann
Exploring the Vast Variety 

Sarah Teichmann

T. Patrick Hill
“Never Forget That Humility is the Mark of Greatness” 

Never forget that humility is the mark of greatness

Liz Harley 
“Give Yourself Permission to be Challenged” 

Liz Harley

Nick Lench
“Strive to Work With the Best”  

Nick Lench

Carlos Bustamante
“We’re All Adding Our Stone to the Pile” 

Dr. Carlos Bustamante

Paula Goldenberg
“Genetics is a Rapidly Changing Field” 

Paula Goldenberg

Said Ismail
“Making WGS Affordable to Labs and Individuals in Lower Income Countries” 

Said Ismail


Who would you like to see interviewed for The Short Read? Let us know via contact@frontlinegenomics.com


Opinions and views expressed in The Short Read are the interviewee’s and not those of the home institution