A lot can happen in eight years, and Wilmington-based Incyte is proof of that. The research it began in 2003, looking to create a chemotherapy drug that was to target one form of cancer, eventually became a treatment, Jakafi, for two other forms of cancer the company had never imagined it would address.
What started as work toward a way to combat multiple myeloma and other tumors eventually became a pharmaceutical that tackled myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera, two blood cancers.
“Those were two diseases we didn’t consider when we started,” says Reid Huber, Ph.D., Incyte’s chief scientific officer. “So, with the research we are doing in 2017, we have to have an eye on 2027 and 2030.”
Founded in 2002, Incyte is a research company specializing in developing cancer therapies by addressing specific indicators that cause diseases and make them spread. Incyte relocated to Delaware to tap into the scientific talent there, most notably medical chemists who were laid off after DuPont was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. Incyte began in the Delaware Technology Park and is now housed in the former John Wanamaker Building, a 180,000-square-foot building with eyes on expansion.
Through the use of innovative technology and research methods, Incyte is working to create targeted treatments that could eventually lead to personalized solutions. According to Huber, by identifying specific genetic mutations and creating medications that jump-start the body’s immune system, the company can offer combinations of drugs that can go beyond the kill-it-all approaches of some chemotherapies to create ways for patients to help cure themselves.
“Where we are now is the recognition that a patient’s own immune system can be taught to unleash itself to fight cancer,” Huber says.
When children receive vaccinations, their immune systems develop “memories” that allow them to ward off the specific diseases addressed by the inoculation — polio, mumps, etc. — for decades to come. Incyte’s scientists are approaching cancer treatment the same way.
“If we can teach the immune system to fight tumors, it can effectively eradicate new tumors,” Huber says.
Metastatic melanoma, bladder cancer and cancers of the head and neck are some of the targets of Incyte’s current research into this field, and, as Huber says, the work must have a sense of immediacy but also a realization that discoveries today could well be solutions to problems discovered tomorrow.
Thanks to the fundamental components of technology, Incyte projects can be accelerated toward effective conclusions or allow scientists to pivot quickly in different directions.
“When we are screening drugs, we may create 4,000 compounds or 6,000 compounds in a two-year period,” Huber says. “We rely on the technology and a lot of laboratory automation to screen the compounds in model systems.”
The results can be exciting today. Or, they can be breakthroughs eight years from now.
This article appeared in the premiere issue of Delaware Innovation Magazine, an overview of the state’s cutting edge industries and the people leading them. See the whole issue here.