Garland and Yanofsky

The two scientists leading Tosk’s efforts to change the fundamental nature of cancer care were inspired to pursue science in one case by his dad, in another case, by his grandfather.

Actually Dr. Bill Garland, Vice President of Research & Development, credits not only his grandfather but President John F. Kennedy for the scientific path he took. Bill’s grandfather was gassed and shot in World War I, and after the war, was provided a government job in Washington DC as a disabled veteran. Bill grew up admiring his grandfather’s refusal to let something as “minor” as damaged lungs and a gunshot wound get in the way of his job, or his life. President Kennedy’s role was to emphasize the importance of science and engineering to the future of the country and mankind.

“This was the age of the space race, sputnik, intense competition with the Russians,” Garland says. “President Kennedy inspired me and many others to pursue science by stressing the ‘endless possibilities’ that science held for each one of us, and the nation. I entered a science fair competition, won it, and I was hooked. I happened to be good in chemistry, so I decided to major in chemistry.”

In Steve Yanofsky’s case, it was his father, the world-renowned geneticist Charles Yanofsky, who was the inspiration. The younger Yanofsky, now Vice President of Research, puttered (or more accurately, got in the way, he says) in his father’s lab at Stanford University literally from the time he can remember. By his early teenage years, he became “chief bottle washer.”

“Most kids, especially in California, were outside playing ball, or whatever, “he says. “I liked to play too, but my dad’s lab was like home to me. I loved the microscopes, the Petri dishes, the beakers — all the sights, smells and sounds. I especially loved the intensity of the pursuit of knowledge, and the joy at achieving a breakthrough.”

Inspired, both set their sights on becoming PhDs. Yanofsky received his doctorate in biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, and followed up as a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of genetics pioneer Dr. Herbert Boyer, who was the co-founder of Genentech. He has worked for large companies and small, including Affymax, which went public and was subsequently purchased by Glaxo. At Affymax for 13 years, he directed the high throughput screening group, great training for the screening he now does for Tosk. Garland’s PhD is in medicinal chemistry, which he earned at the University of Washington. He also worked for companies large and small, including 20 years with Roche, where he was Head of International Project Management.

Both cite their broad-based experience as well as their education as a perfect fit for their roles at Tosk. “I learned basic science in school,” Garland says, “and in business, I learned the complexity involved in moving a drug through discovery, trials, and regulatory approval. It’s a complicated, non-linear process.” Understanding the process, he says, came in handy when he steered Tosk’s first patented drug, TK-90, into human trials in cancer patients, in May of this year. “Human studies are a big step for any company,” he emphasizes, “but, in particular, for a small company like ours. We obviously don’t have the staff or the financial resources of Big Pharma, but that’s not always an advantage. Our progress shows what a dedicated, focused group of scientists can accomplish when they believe in their mission.”

Yanofsky learned first hand at Affymax and, subsequently, at other drug development companies, the critical role toxicity plays in the science of cancer research. “There are many effective therapies available to cancer patients today,” he says, “but if patients get sick because of the drugs they take or the radiation they undergo, their doctors have to eliminate or cut back on optimum dosage, which short circuits the entire treatment process.”

It’s the challenge of making therapies more effective and safe as well as the small company environment that brought the two scientists to Tosk. “Tosk is one of the few development companies that is totally focused on enhancing commonly administered cancer drugs by eliminating their toxic effects,” Yanofsky says, “I’m a molecular biologist, and I appreciate that I can spend virtually all my time in our lab working to reach a goal that is noble and achievable.” Garland concurs: “We spend almost all of our time in the lab, screening for compounds that can literally transform cancer therapy. If we succeed, cancer patients across the world will have a better quality of life and a better opportunity to beat the disease. What scientist wouldn’t want that as their legacy?