|Full interview with Fred Pashkow|
Interviewed by Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Assistant Business Editor
Interviewed by Alan Yonan Jr.
Q. At what stage is Cardax Pharmaceuticals in the development of its new drug for inflammatory cardiovascular disease?
A. XanCor, which will be the trade name for our drug, is in what's called the pre-clinical development stage. We're about a year away from filing with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to do studies in patients. The drug is actually a member of a family of compounds that are found in nature ... that are very potent antioxidants. We feel it has characteristics that are very, very encouraging. And what's very interesting is that we have experience of the natural product already being used in people as a neutraceutical.
Q. What is your view on the debate over whether the state should offer tax credits to stimulate investment in technology companies?
A. I know there are economists who feel that is a bone-head thing to do. But suppose we were the next Amgen (a biotechnology company in Thousand Oaks, Calif.). Now that's not outrageous. We talked about our lead compound XanCor, but we also have four other derivative compounds we're working with, and we're really focusing on four or five different disease states. We could be the next Amgen. And if we were the next Amgen, we would be Hawai'i's first billion-dollar industry other than tourism. What's the likelihood of that? If you only have two or three companies, the chances aren't great. But suppose you have 50 companies like us. One of us is going to be an Amgen. It increases the chances and it's not that much more expensive for the state.
Q. Pfizer recently announced that it was going to halt the development of one of its new cholesterol drugs, torcetrapib. Will that have any impact on Cardax's development of XanCor?
A. The drug recently failed in a major clinical trial for the simple reason that it has an unacceptable side effect of raising blood pressure, and that apparently, according to what I read in the newspapers, was associated with a higher mortality rate. So how is that good for us? One of the things that motivated me to come to 'Aiea to work with Cardax Pharmaceuticals was that I feel that the cholesterol therapies that have been a mainstay of our success in reducing heart attacks and deaths from cardiovascular disease had pretty much peaked. And so I thought what's the next really big thing, and I think the next really big thing in cardiovascular therapies for the long term is is going to be something that protects against inflammation and injury and helps people who have a heart attack even if they've taken the statins and the aspirin.
Q. You have a medical degree from the Ohio State University and started your career as a clinical physician. How did you make the transition to working for the drug industry?
A. I was actually for almost 15 years primarily a clinician, meaning I saw patients. I did some teaching at the university. As time went on, I got more and more interested in leveraging my knowledge and skills. And I got involved in doing research and development on devices like pacemakers, which were part of my clinical experience. One day I realized I was burying my best work, meaning everything I did was one-to-one. If I did a great job on a patient, that was great and it lasted for the duration of that patient's life. But I wasn't really adding to the knowledge base, I wasn't really teaching those who would come after, and I realized that if I taught more, if I did more research, if I maybe even got into disseminating my experience and knowledge by writing, it would really leverage what I did.
Q. How did your work at Sanofi-Aventis influence your career?
A. I managed two or three of the largest cardiovascular drugs in the United States. I managed them medically. I knew that those drugs were going to save millions and millions of lives and it was really an exciting thing. I had done consulting to drug companies as an academic — that's very common. But that was my first experience as formally a professional working in the pharmaceutical industry as the medical director for a drug called Plavix, which is the No. 2 cardiovascular drug in the United States.
Q. Had you worked in Hawai'i before accepting the position with Cardax?
A. I was here from 1999 to 2004 as medical director of the heart institute at Queens. I was mainly responsible for the quality of care in cardiovascular and for the research and teaching program. And I really enjoyed it, but decided that the service side of the medical profession wasn't ... really what I wanted to do. I really wanted to continue that opportunity of expanding — really leveraging my knowledge and experience on a much greater scale. Service medicine is really very difficult. You do a lot of dealing with regulations, insurance companies, governments, governmental affairs groups, and it's very process oriented. And I really wanted to be on the science side.
Q. What insights have you gained in the way drugs are brought to market?
A. I learned a lot about the process. I was very lucky. Even though I spent only a little over four years with big pharma, I really had the opportunity to have a very intensive experience. I worked with a lot of different compounds, a lot of different products, very successful products. But what I really learned, is that I think in this country, drug discovery development took a wrong turn somewhere. It was probably about 10 or 15 years ago, and we began to develop a system where we really ... relied on computers to generate compounds that might successfully target clinical needs, and I really felt that that was a mistake. I really believe very strongly that the best drugs come from natural sources.
Q. How did that realization affect your decision to return to Hawai'i?
A. I really fell in love with this idea that compounds should come from natural sources. And we're surrounded by some of the greatest natural sources there are, particularly the ocean. But I also felt that there are still wonderful things to be found in plants and other bio-materials. So that was a revelation, and it was very clear that the large pharmaceutical companies had essentially abandoned that approach, and I really felt that it was a very viable approach. So when Cardax approached me and said would you consider actually coming with us full time, I gave it a lot of thought and said yes. You're working in the environment that I think is going to have the greatest likelihood of success, and that's in the area of natural product chemistry and in deriving new drugs from things that have already been proven safe and efficacious by nature.
Reach Alan Yonan Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.