Advances in Cancer Treating Drugs

In 1999, biotechnologist Jennie P. Mather set out to challenge conventional thinking when it comes to advanced pharmaceutical development. With nearly three decades of experience in cell biology research behind her, she embarked on her own path to launch a company to produce novel therapeutics targeted toward specific diseases. She used a process that closely analyzes the surface of a disease cell to develop antibodies that disable proteins on the surface of cells that are necessary for the disease to grow. She hopes that drugs created using this process will not only have a relatively fast development time, but will also become effective treatments for a variety of cancers, such as breast, prostate, lung, colon, pancreatic, and ovarian cancers.

Born in 1949, Mather earned a doctoral degree in biology at the University of California, San Diego in 1975.  She worked as an assistant professor for several years at The Rockefeller University in New York before she joined biotech behemoth Genentech as the firm’s first female staff scientist. 

She became involved in a wide variety of research endeavors there, including leading or participating in the project teams that produced such drugs as Herceptin®, used to treat metastatic breast cancer; Activase®, a drug used to treat heart attacks, acute ischemic strokes, and acute massive pulmonary embolisms; and Pulmozyme®, an inhalation treatment for patients with cystic fibrosis. In addition, Mather contributed to the development of Genentech’s cell culture biomanufacturing processes and helped to secure several key patents for the company.

South San Francisco-based Genentech helped to establish the biotech industry with groundbreaking work that centers on deconstructing the genome of a disease cell in its entirety, and then developing drugs to combat it. This process is effective but can take a number of years to complete, as a typical disease is made up of 500 to 1,000 genes.

Mather became intrigued with the idea of using the proteins on the surface of a disease cell as targets for the antibodies that she was developing. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body's immune system in response to a foreign substance. They are what our bodies use to fight off infection.

Mather noted that natural antibodies never enter diseased cells, but rather, they work on a disease cell’s exterior. She postulated that drugs could and should work the same way. She also thought that by looking at simply the surface proteins of a disease cell, she might be able to cut drug development time down to less than one year. In October of 1998, she began seeking funding to launch her own company with this goal in mind.

In less than two months, Mather was able to raise more than $1 million to start Raven Biotechnologies, Inc. in South San Francisco, where she served as the Founder, President, and Chief Scientific Officer until its acquisition by MacroGenics in 2008.

As Raven got off the ground, she realized that she needed to find a way to keep human cells alive inside a lab dish, and she patented a process that achieves this.

Mather holds over 40 U.S. patents and has authored or edited five books and more than 150 publications. She was named a Top Ten Innovator by Red Herring magazine in 2002 and a Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum in 2005. Mather continues to work in the field of cancer therapeutics and now heads up CanFel Therapeutics, which develops therapeutics for companion animals.