While still in the early stages of his career, Anupong Tangpeerachaikul helped discover an experimental cancer drug in the lab and shepherd it through animal studies — and recently, that drug was cleared to begin its first clinical trial involving patients with lung cancer driven by a rare gene mutation.
“To reach this moment has been so rewarding and also humbling,” said Tangpeerachaikul, a senior scientist at Nuvalent, the small biotech where he’s worked since 2018. “When you hear [patient] perspectives, you understand these therapies have the potential to be life-changing for them.”
Born in Thailand, Tangpeerachaikul’s childhood nickname was a shortened version of the Thai word for chemistry. “I would see these chemistry books with my name on them, so I started to read them. I didn’t understand any of it, but that’s what got me interested in science.”
After graduation from an international high school in Norway, Tangpeerachaikul attended MIT, where he majored in chemistry and biology, followed by a Ph.D. in chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard working in a research lab run by Matthew Shair.
In 2017, Shair founded Nuvalent to develop small-molecule drugs that kill cancer cells by blocking very specific genetic mutations found in tumors. Shair recruited Tangpeerachaikul to join Nuvalent as one of the startup’s earliest scientist-employees.
“Anupong’s contributions and accomplishments at Nuvalent have been nothing short of spectacular,” said Shair.
Tangpeerachaikul was part of a team that shepherded the company’s lead drug to the start of its first clinical trial. Called NVL-520, the drug targets lung cancer caused by a rare mutation in which DNA becomes rearranged, called a ROS1 fusion. Importantly, the drug is designed to remain effective against downstream mutations that can make tumors resistant to currently approved ROS1 medicines, while also avoiding some of their side effects.
Nuvalent has a second targeted cancer drug that could enter clinical trials next year, and is engaged in early discovery work on additional compounds.
“Eventually, I’d like to make an impact on a larger scale,” said Tangpeerachaikul, when asked to chart his future. “The research and discovery side will always be an integral part of me as a scientist, but I’m also really interested in health care and societal issues, not just in the U.S. but because of my background, in other parts of the world, especially developing countries.”
— Adam Feuerstein