Prof. Dr. Rana Nomak Sanyal blazed a trail in the history of the Republic of Turkey. Head of Chemistry Department in Boğaziçi University, Prof. Rana Nomak Sanyal has got permission from the Ministry of Health for human trials and tests of a cancer drug developed by her in Turkey. Prof. Rana Nomak Sanyal, leading the research for making a drug from scratch, explained to the Inspiring Women the history of herself and her molecule bringing a very important novelty in cancer treatment and developed at all stages in Turkey.
Prof. Dr. Rana Nomak Sanyal blazed a trail. She got permission for testing her drug on humans. I didn’t know that for the first time till date in the history of the Republic of Turkey, a scientist could reach the stage of getting human test permission from the Ministry of Health for a drug researched and developed in Turkey. What’s more, it is a cancer drug which may become the hope of a great many of cancer patients and may be a first in the world as well.
Prof. Rana Nomak Sanyal is Head of Chemistry Department in Boğaziçi University. She is a researcher who has spent her full career years for researches and studies on cancer drugs and has devoted herself to this goal. This year, she is deemed worthy of the Future-Promising Woman Entrepreneur Award in the Women Entrepreneurs of Turkey Contest organized by KAGİDER, Garanti Bank and Ekonomist Magazine, because her invention is at the same time a very successful example bringing academic world and industry together in Turkey. Prof. Rana Nomak Sanyal is conducting researches for the first cancer drug developed in Turkey under the roof of RS Research company founded together with her brother Sena Nomak. With Rana Nomak Sanyal, mother of 2 children, we spoke her inspiring story.
Mrs. Rana, how did your story begin?
I am from Karşıyaka, İzmir. I am graduated from Bornova Anatolian High School. My mother was an elementary school teacher, and my father was a computer programmer. I have a brother, Sena. He is the same time my partner in the company.
Did you prefer Boğaziçi Chemistry Department due to your love for chemistry?
Exactly. I studied in Boğaziçi University Chemical Engineering Department. Then I went to Boston University, United States of America, for a doctorate study under full scholarship. In 1999, I got a job offer from a biotechnology corporation named Amgen and started to work there. I lived in United States for 10 years. Then I returned to Boğaziçi University in September 2004.
What was the subject of your researches in the United States for 10 years?
Amgen is a corporation specialized in oncology field. We have introduced and launched very many novel oncology drugs to the market. I have always studied cancer there as well.
How did you decide to return to Turkey?
I have gone to the United States only for education purposes. I have never intended to stay there. But when I got a job offer, my duration of stay is prolonged. Then, I tried to return thinking that “I can do the same business in Turkey as well.” I have already specialized in oncology field. I returned in order to continue my studies on peptides, polymers and small carriers in Turkey. My husband is also from the same division. He is an Indian. He also wished to come and we came to Boğaziçi University together.
I AM THE FIRST MARIE CURIE OF TURKEY
Could you find also in Turkey the research and development opportunities available in the United States?
When I came to Boğaziçi University, I founded my own laboratory. For my researches, every year I am filing applications for funding purposes to every source you name it. I am at all times writing new projects and striving for creating financial sources. The European Union has Marie Curie funds. I am the first Marie Curie of Turkey, because I received that fund for the first time in Turkey. Later, others also managed to receive the same fund. However, I needed other approaches and relations as well in order to realize and implement my plans. I have seen in the United States how this business is carried out. Therefore, I founded a company named RS Research together with my brother. In April 2017, we received our first investment project. The European Investment Fund’s ACT VC Fund supported also by the Ministry of Science and Industry provided a support fund of 1.1 million Euro.
What did you do exactly? How were you focused on this business?
My focusing on this subject goes long way back. But I have started to deal with these molecules in 2009. It is a long-running process and I think I have got a positive result in a shorter period of time.
It is a short time from 2009 to 2017?
Yes, of course. It is so for this type of studies. Furthermore, you may even go away empty-handed. You are only trying and testing. In the cell, the drug may not adequately kill or kill too much. As it is not a mechanical business, you are continuously trying and testing. Not something like you achieve a progress when you take a step more. The first syntheses of the polymer-based drug were done in those years I have just started. Now, it is not the molecule I have started. I brought my knowledge while founding this business. I returned from the United States with the knowledge of which types of stages a drug molecule should pass from scratch to becoming a human pharmaceutical. I had the knowledge of which correct questions should be asked if a molecule is intended to advance. After works in chemistry laboratory, we are looking at cells, followed by animal studies and tests. We established and completed all these steps in the university. We have a very good team in Boğaziçi University. It is almost a chain of infrastructures. If you have a candidate drug, we are taking all those steps on it. And the first molecule passing all these steps was mine.
A molecule against cancer… What does it do differently?
We are getting the cancer drugs already available in the marketplace. Then we are chemically linking those drugs to a polymer. Later, we are writing an address on it, that is to say we are biologically targeting the tumour. And we are making our carrier a smart one. These are smart drugs. They are entering only into the tumour, and do not go anywhere else.
Doesn’t it give the harms and damages caused by chemotherapy drugs?
Exactly. It goes to a certain address. The worst side of chemotherapy is that it knows well how to kill a cell, but at the same time kills all other rapidly growing cells as well. For instance, the number-one priority is given to bone marrow. Chemotherapy drugs kill also the good cells in bone marrow. But our drug does not ever go to bone marrow, but goes to the tumour directly. We have put our drug in such a package that the drug is released and freed only in the targeted tumour. We are protecting body from drug, and drug from body. We want the drug not to go fast, and at the same time, we are protecting the healthy cells of body. Our substance recognizes and knows the receptor which then takes the drug in. Upon entering into cell, the drug is released and freed to kill the harmful cells there. It is indeed a carrier platform. I can continue my studies depending on the different types of cancer.
I KNOW IT WILL BE USEFUL.
Against which types of cancer will this drug fight?
Against many types of cancer. But it is not correct to tell them at this stage, because we need time for introduction and launching of these drugs to the market. We do not have a flash in the pan. This is future-promising. Many molecules are on the way. We have molecules targeting many different types of cells. And I am doing this by using the chemotherapy drugs already existing in the market. I know that it will be useful upon penetration into human, because I am preventing its side effect profile and increasing the effects of drug. I am targeting a slow and stable effect indeed.
It is a first also for Turkey. What did you live so far in this journey?
In 2017, we filed an application to the Medicines and Medical Devices Authority of Turkey. You have to file an application to the Ethical Committee as well. We completed all these steps. “And we wish to try and test it on humans”, we said. Thus we received the permission to try on humans from the Clinical Researches Department. Yes, it is a first for Turkey.
When are you going to start human studies and on whom will the drug be tested and tried?
We are going to start in the first months of the next year. They also have different phases. First of all, in Phase 1, it is tried on terminal patients. Human studies and tests are conducted in 3 stages before launching. Cancer drugs are tried and tested on Phase 1, i.e. terminal patients, that is to say, on patients who have no other way to try.
Does it give a result?
Yes, it will. We will definitely come to a conclusion.
WE RECEIVED ADDITIONAL INVESTMENT FUND
Is your existing investment sufficient for all these works?
In our first investment, our goal was to carry towards humans. When the first molecule produced a good result, our investor decided to make an additional investment, and gave 900 million Euro. We have now Phase 1, Phase 2 and Phase 3 in front of us. It is a long process. Our achievement is to bring the drug from scratch, i.e. zero kilometre to humans. The Ministry of Health has for the first time given permission for human tests of a molecule researched and developed in Turkey. I mean to say that the Ministry gave permission for human tests of a molecule discovered in Turkey.
WILL ADDRESS THE WHOLE WORLD
What do you think about the fact that this could not ever be achieved so far in the history of the Republic of Turkey?
We shall succeed before our Republic reaches its 100 years of age. Considered where our country was in 1923… I am hopeful. I am working with my young friends. Nano drugs are very new all over the world. There are no targeted drugs yet in the marketplace. There are some researched molecules just like ours. We are a first also in the world. It will be a global product and will address the whole world.
Will you be able to go up to the end of researches in Turkey?
Great probably, no. We can finish Phase 1. Phase 2 may also be done with some supports of course. In Phase, tests are conducted on non-terminal stage patients. In Phase 2, number of patients increases and follow-up period is longer. It is checked whether the drug cures the disease or not. It is possible only with some additional investments.
Your team contains other women researches as well, doesn’t it?
Our Company is fully a research company. We are 10 researchers, 7 of which are women. Men can be accepted to our team only if they are really very good. There are young doctorate students. I believe that each of them is a star indeed.
PROF. DR. RANA NOMAK
After graduating from Boğaziçi University Chemical Engineering Department in the year 1994 and getting her doctorate degree in chemistry with her organic synthesis studies in Boston University, Rana Sanyal started to work as a researcher in Amgen, a California based biotechnology company. Sanyal is working as a faculty member in Boğaziçi University Chemistry Department since 2004. So far deemed worthy of Loreal Turkey Young Science Woman (2008), Novartis Pharmaceutical and Medicinal Chemistry Drug Design (2008) and Turkish Academy of Sciences Distinguished Young Scientist (2011), and Boğaziçi University Distinguished Success in Research (2012) awards, Prof. Dr. Sanyal is at the same time serving as manager of Boğaziçi University Life Sciences and Technologies Centre. Sanyal is deemed worthy of the Future-Promising Woman Entrepreneur Award in the Women Entrepreneurs of Turkey Contest organized by KAGİDER, Garanti Bank and Ekonomist Magazine in 2018.