From Catching Serial Killers to Mapping Tumors: How Richard Gabriel is Advancing Genetics Research

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Richard Gabriel didn’t expect to work in cancer research, but now, after 30 years studying one of the most complex diseases known to humankind, the Senior Vice President of Research and Development for Predictive Oncology explains his work as if he were born to do it.

“All the cells in our body like different signals, different foods, and different environments,” he said. “Some like hard structures, some like soft structures, and some are more fluid. So, you take all that and say ‘how can you ever make sense of all this?’”

But that’s exactly what Gabriel and the team at Predictive Oncology are setting out to do.

A winding path from pharma to capturing serial killers and back

 

Launching his first company, Gabriel Consulting, in 1984, Gabriel’s journey toward cancer research had officially begun. His chemistry background was a natural fit, he said, and small scale drug manufacturing seemed to be a space replete with opportunities. When his company acquired a business called Pharm-Eco Laboratories, however, he secured several government contracts along with i t— including a cancer contract with the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“It was really in 1990 that I launched my full-fledged career in pharmaceuticals,” he said. We built that from just me, an engineer, a pipe fitter, and a couple of employees to being a 165 person company.”

Now as Pharm-Eco Laboratories, also constructed a large Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) manufacturing facility. Partnerships and collaborations were struck with multiple government agencies and research organizations. Eventually Gabriel’s business was acquired and, due to a non-compete agreement, Gabriel was forced to step away from the industry.

Using genetics to capture serial killers

 

 

His initial transition away from pharmaceuticals would end up being a pivotal moment in his career. Gabriel went to work for a company in Florida that was focused on genetics research. During his time there, Gabriel and his team found themselves using genetics to capture serial killers. The first murdered at least seven women in Louisiana before police apprehended him, and they needed Gabriel and his team’s help to do it. They tested a sample of what the police believed to be the killer’s DNA. Knowing the description of the suspect police were searching for, Gabriel and team tested the sample. They came up with some serious news:

“The good news was we could help them identify the person of interest in these murders, but the bad news was they were looking at the wrong population,” Gabriel said.

Law enforcement was skeptical of the results, though, so they put Gabriel and his colleagues to the test first.

“They sent us 12 samples from people where they knew something about their heritage but we did not,” Gabriel said. “We turned it around in 48 hours. We called them up again and, in a room of about 30 people including the state attorney general and assistant director of the FBI, we told them we were able to identify 11 of the 12 samples.”

For a moment the room grumbled and groaned with disappointment, Gabriel said, when Dr. Tony Frudakis, then founder and Chief Science Officer of the company and now a Senior Scientist at TumorGenesis Inc., a Predictive Oncology company, chimed in: “We can’t identify the twelfth sample because it barks!”

Having successfully identified the red herring placed by law enforcement as dog DNA, the police were convinced the company and team could help them capture the culprit. And indeed they did: his name was Derrick Todd Lee, the Baton Rouge Serial Killer. He was identified and arrested after volunteers of the same genetic background offered their photos for a composite sketch of the suspect.

Gabriel and team would go on to help law enforcement apprehend seven serial killers in this way until the hedge fund capitalizing the company went under during the financial crisis of 2008. So, with serial killer hunting under his belt, Gabriel found himself gravitating towards cancer research.

Stepping into the world of cancer research

 

Like many people working in cancer research, Gabriel had a personal experience with cancer. At 29 years old, more than 40 years before he would begin working in the cancer industry, his wife passed away, leaving him with a 3 year old daughter.

According to Gabriel, now remarried, she was one of the first patients ever to receive a combination therapy for leukemia developed by the NCI. Initially, Gabriel said, the treatment saved her life. Sadly, though, her cancer eventually returned and she ultimately passed away.

“It changed me, but it wasn’t a moment where now I’m gonna go into cancer research. It didn’t happen that way,” he said. “It sort of progressed, in the back of my mind always.”

Now would be his chance to make an impact and help to advance critical research in cancer treatment. Gabriel leveraged his experience in genetics to launch a new company called GLG Pharma with two partners. GLG Pharma would focus on the cancer mechanism known as STAT3, which is present in about 30 different cancers, Gabriel said.

“When STAT3 goes crazy, it’s the cause of metastasis, chemo resistance, and other bad things,” Gabriel said. The company would find success in licensing some of its technology and partnering with the NCI to advance research on STAT3.

From there, things picked up pace rapidly. Gabriel met Mel Engle, current CEO of Predictive Oncology, while serving on the boards of multiple companies in the life sciences domain, including Skyline Medical’s board of directors that became Predictive Oncology. The two began working together to integrate some of the work GLG Pharma in 3D cell culturing was doing into Predictive Oncology’s operations.

A company called TumorGenesis, today part of Predictive Oncology, was born.

The heterogeneity of tumors and how to map them

 

As Gabriel describes it, tumors are heterogeneous masses of cells that contain multiple different types of cells, all of which need to be destroyed. There’s the “drivers,” the most active and deadly cells in the tumor. These receive most of the attention from cancer researchers and make up the majority of the 60 cancer cell lines immortalized by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) for cancer research.

In addition to these drivers, Gabriel explained, there are also “passengers” and “sleepers,” which can sometimes activate even after a patient appears to enter remission. To truly cure cancer, healthcare providers need to destroy all three of these cancerous cells.

“You have to know the driver, the passengers, and the sleepers,” Gabriel said. “If you don’t kill all three, cancer is gonna come back.”

Unfortunately, killing all three is easier said than done. According to Gabriel, existing efforts like proteomics, transcriptomics, and DNA analysis only go so far in identifying tumors — to truly understand them, he says, you need to work at the cellular level.

That’s what TumorGenesis is working on. The team there is studying tumors in a new way: by removing them from patients and preserving them in unique growing mediums that mimic the conditions in the patient’s body.

By keeping these tumors alive in the laboratory, Gabriel said, researchers can leverage artificial intelligence to run countless treatment scenarios and predict patient outcomes. Then, it can provide a list of optimal drug combinations based on factors like the patient’s genetic background, family history, dietary habits, tumor type, and more.

“What we’re able to do is work at the cellular level,” Gabriel said. “We separate tumors, identify the cells, and put them back together again as a colony. Then you use the colony to figure out what combination of drugs is going to kill all of the drivers, passengers, and sleepers.”

Bringing the patient into the cancer discovery process

 

The biggest remaining problem after mapping the tumor, Gabriel said, is the combination of patients and their tumor heterogeneity is a massively complicating factor. The exponential combinations of various genetic and environmental factors that apply to an individual patient coupled with the unique complexity of their cancer makes identifying optimal treatments extremely challenging, slowing the drug discovery process and wasting billions of dollars on the development of ineffective drugs that fail in U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Stage 3 clinical trials.

Theoretically, though, if you could take all those factors into account, you would be able to optimize cancer treatments on a patient by patient, cancer by cancer basis.

“To understand all that you need AI, because it’s just way too complex,” Gabriel said. “What we do is use a database of 150,000 patients, 131 tumor types, and 30 different cancers. It includes the height, weight, age, diabetes status, do they smoke, drink, and so on. In addition, we have screening information from cancers we’ve isolated on what drugs worked and didn’t work.”

That AI used is an iterative one and uses three components, known as CoRE, PeDAL, and TruTumor. The system is managed by Helomics, a Predictive Oncology company. That data can then be used to support other efforts at companies working toward Predictive Oncology’s larger mission of eliminating cancer once and for all, Gabriel said.

“We’re bringing the patient into the discovery process,” he added. “It was too complex before we had computers and AI, but now we do and so we’re bringing that patient data back into the discovery process early on. And we’re bringing in tumor heterogeneity as well.”

Gabriel’s hope is to deploy this method of tumor mapping and treatment optimization to expedite drug discovery and increase the number of effective cancer treatments that make it to market quickly. Further, it’s about identifying which patient populations respond best to which drugs, so as to match the genetic background of the patient and their type of cancer to a specialized treatment regimen.

Toward a cancer-free future

 

Predictive Oncology has brought together the team to recognize the mission that Gabriel and so many others share. With the CoRE, PeDAL, and TruTumor AI algorithms from Helomics, the insights from TumorGenesis research, and the ability of Soluble Biotech to improve the efficacy of vaccines and biological medications, the complete puzzle of cutting edge cancer research needed to one day eliminate cancer altogether is finally coming together.

Richard Gabriel is the President of TumorGenesis a wholly owned subsidiary of Predictive Oncology and senior vice president of research and development for Predictive Oncology, an artificial intelligence powered cancer research company dedicated to eliminating cancer, has spent his career using chemistry, genetics, and big data to do amazing things.

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Julia Kirshner, Ph.D.

Dr. Kirshner has over 15 years of experience in cancer research, including preclinical model design, drug discovery and efficacy testing. Dr. Kirshner’s expertise spans multiple aspects of cancer biology including the development of physiological organotypic 3D cell culture models for preclinical drug testing, molecular target and biomarker discovery, evaluation of drug-resistance, tumor microenvironment, tumor heterogeneity and cancer stem cells, and tumor immunology. 

At Predictive Oncology

As the founder of zPREDICTA, Dr. Kirshner leads the team in developing tumor-specific in vitro models for oncology drug discovery and research. The company is focused on accelerating the drug development process through its expertise in carcinogenesis, metastasis, and the tumor microenvironment. zPREDICTA’s complex in vitro models recapitulate the physiological environment of human cancer tissue and thus provide a more clinically relevant testing platform than commonly used alternatives.

Before Predictive Oncology

Prior to starting zPREDICTA, Dr. Kirshner was an Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Purdue University.  

“ Combining zPREDICTA’s technology with Helomics, TumorGenesis, and Soluble Biotech will allow us to make true progress towards our joint mission of eliminating cancer.”

Education
Irell & Manella Graduate School of Biological Sciences

Ph.D., Molecular and Cell Biology

University of California, Davis
B.S., Genetics

Pamela Bush, Ph.D.

SVP, Strategic Sales and Business Development,

PREDICTIVE ONCOLOGY
At Predictive Oncology

Pamela Bush comes with more than twenty years of experience in venture creation, finance, and business development in the life sciences industry. At POAI, she leads the sales efforts and business development activities across the portfolio.

Before Predictive Oncology

Prior to joining POAI Pamela worked at Eli Lilly & Company in various roles including Corporate Business Development, Finance and Patient Services. In addition to her Lilly work experience, Pamela has worked in economic development, academia, and business consulting supporting the creation and growth of 80+ life sciences start-ups.

“ POAI has developed solutions to help biopharma partners increase the probability of success of their oncology pipeline.”

Education
Carnegie Mellon University

Ph.D., Molecular Biology
MBA, Tepper School of Business

Lawrence J. DeLucas, Ph.D

SVP, OPERATIONS,
Predictive Oncology
President, Soluble Biotech
At Predictive Oncology

Dr. DeLucas is the Vice president of Operations for Predictive Oncology and President and co-founder of Soluble Biotech, Inc. DeLucas is currently working to complete development of GMP facilities at Soluble Biotech and at TumorGenesis. In addition, he oversees Soluble Biotech’s solubility and stability contracts for numerous pharmaceutical/biotech companies.

Before Predictive Oncology

From 1981-2016 Dr. DeLucas was a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) where he served as a Professor in the School of Optometry, Senior Scientist and Director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center X-ray Shared Facility, and Director of the Center for Structural Biology. Dr. DeLucas received five degrees from UAB culminating in a Doctor of Optometry degree and a Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry. He also received honorary Doctor of Science degrees from The Ohio State University, Ferris State University, the State University of New York (SUNY), and the Illinois College of Optometry. He has published 164 peer-reviewed research articles in various scientific journals, co-authored and edited several books on protein crystal growth and membrane proteins and is a co-inventor on 43 patents involving protein crystal growth, novel biotechnologies and structure-based drug design. DeLucas was a payload specialist NASA astronaut and member of the 7-person crew of Space Shuttle Columbia for Mission “STS-50”, called the United States Microgravity Laboratory-1 (USML-1) Spacelab mission. Columbia launched on June 25, 1992, returning on July 9.  In 1994 and 1995, Dr. DeLucas served as the Chief Scientist for the International Space Station at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. In 1999, Dr. DeLucas was recognized as one of the scientists who could shape the 21st century in an article published by “The Sunday Times” of London titled “The Brains Behind the 21st Century.”  In 2004, he was recognized as a Top Ten Finalist for the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Birmingham Business Journal. 

“ Soluble Biotech is continually demonstrating to pharmaceutical and biotech companies the significant value of its novel HSC technology for optimizing protein therapeutic formulations to treat a variety of chronic and infectious diseases. ”

Education
  • Five degrees from Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB): B.S. Chemistry, M.S. Chemistry, B.S. Physiological Optics, O.D. Optometry, Ph.D Biochemistry
  •  
  • Published 164 peer-reviewed research articles in various scientific journals
  •  
  • 1993-2016: Director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center X-ray Shared Facility, and Director of the Center for Structural Biology
  •  
  • NASA Astronaut, flew on Columbia Space Shuttle
  •  
  • 1994-1995: Appointed Chief Scientist for the International Space Station at NASA HQ

Arlette Uihlein, MD, FCAP, FASCP

Dr. Arlette Uihlein is Senior Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Quality for Predictive Oncology and Site Leader of Helomics, serving as the Vice President of Operations, Pathology Services and Medical Director of Helomics® Clinical and Research Labs since 2011. Dr. Uihlein is Board Certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, Cytopathology and Family Medicine. Dr. Uihlein completed her Pathology Residency at Allegheny General Hospital, where she served as Chief Resident in Pathology and completed Fellowships in Cytopathology and Surgical Pathology. During that time, she conducted extensive clinical research involving molecular pathology diagnostic and predictive markers, imaging of solid tumors, and novel applications of cellular tumor markers. While serving as Medical Director at Helomics, a CLIA and New York State certified lab, Dr. Uihlein has published research in molecular assay development, lab automation, and tissue and cell processing. She is a Designated Civil Surgeon for the U.S. Dept. of Justice and a certified Medical Review Officer for the Department of Transportation. She is a Fellow of the College of American Pathologists and the American Society of Clinical Pathology, NYSDOH Certificate Qualified, and a member of ASCO.

“ At Helomics we’re delivering better-informed decision making saving pharma time and money, while providing cancer patients with appropriate therapies.”

 

 

Education

Medical College of Ohio
Doctor of Medicine

Baldwin-Wallace University
BS, Biology

Richard Gabriel, BS, MBA

SVP, RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
Predictive Oncology
Site Leader, TumorGenesis
At Predictive Oncology
My role at Predictive Oncology is to bring the business sense to managing Research and Development programs at all our companies. To seek new ways and opportunities to commercialize exciting new technologies that we have built, licensed, acquired, or are developing through our own research and development. The success of any company is to get the research off the bench and to the customers. That is what I do at POAI and help the other companies as well.
Before Predictive Oncology
Prior to starting his first company in 1984 and registering with the FDA a pilot plant facility to make pharmaceutical actives, Mr. Gabriel managed a $50 million product line for W.R. Grace, developed new marketing and sales strategies for Ventron a Division of Morton Thiokol, research work at Ashland Chemical for pressure sensitive adhesives and plant scale-up. Since then, he ran a genetics company, built three GMP/Research facilities, and helped 5 drugs reach their markets in AIDS and cancer. Real expertise in cGMP process scale-up and compliance. Completely understand the needs of an API manufacturing facility and build processes that are scalable, environmentally acceptable, and safe. 3 FDA inspections with no 483’s, ISO certification, DEA registration, DoD compliance, NCI contractor and inventor. Has also broad-based experience in start-up companies and how to make them operational and profitable. 7 years of Team set-up, R&D management, and implementation for 165-person (85 PhD’s and Engineers) company (Pharm-Eco) and lecturer on cGMP and Teams within the Pharmaceutical Industry.

“ Patients are always first, is our driving force. Oncology is a tough space, and we are determined to bring the best validated science to help cancer patients and as our CEO says, ‘Eliminate Cancer.’ That takes teamwork and a lot of smart hard-working people, our team members at POAI are up to the challenge. ”

 

 

Education
Suffolk University
Executive MBA Program

Ohio Dominican College
BS, Chemistry

Ohio State University
Microbiology and Virology

University of Cincinnati
Associates Degree, Liberal Arts

Mark A Collins, Ph.D

SCIENTIFIC/CUSTOMER DEVELOPMENT
Predictive Oncology
Chief Technical Officer, Helomics
At Predictive Oncology

Mark is currently Chief Technical Officer at Predictive Oncology. Using the power of AI, Mark is responsible for leveraging Helomics’ vast repository of physical and digital tumor samples, to build multi-omic predictive models of tumor drug response and outcome. Such models can be applied to the discovery of new targeted therapies for cancer as well as used in clinical decision support to help oncologists individualize  treatment.

Before Predictive Oncology

Dr. Mark Collins embarked on a career in the pharmaceutical industry following his postdoctoral work. Pursuing a passion for both biology and computing, Mark has held multiple executive roles in a variety of discovery, informatics and bioinformatics functions within global pharma, and founded three startup software companies in the artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning (ML) and drug discovery space. Mark relocated to the USA in 2001 to work for Cellomics (now part of Thermo Fisher Scientific), where he played a pivotal role in establishing the High-Content cell analysis market, building, and commercializing several key informatics and bioinformatics products.

Since leaving Thermo Fisher, Mark has focused on developing and commercializing informatics solutions for clinical and translational research, specifically in the specimen tracking, ‘omics data management and NGS analysis space, through key roles at BioFortis, Global Specimen Solutions and Genedata

“ I have been pursuing a vision since the late 1990s that AI will help deliver better patient therapies. I firmly believe at POAI we will deliver on that vision. ”

Education
University of Surrey, UK
Ph.D., Microbiology

University of Wolverhampton, UK
Undergraduate Degree, Applied Science

Bob Myers, BBA, MBA

CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
Predictive Oncology
Site Leader, Skyline Medical
At Predictive Oncology

Executive Officer, Compliance Officer, Corporate Secretary, and member of the Senior Leadership Team. Responsible for Finance, Administration, Human Resources, Investor Relations, and IT. Skyline Medical Site Leader.

Before Predictive Oncology

Numerous years as CEO/Controller consultant including medical devices companies. Executive positions with CES Computer Solutions, Computer Accomplishments, Hi-Tech Stationary & Printing, Capital Distributors Corp, International Creative Management American Express, Showtime Entertainment and public accounting with Laventhol & Horwath, CPA’s.

“ It’s a privilege to work with a highly talented team to pursue oncology advances, while protecting and increasing shareholder value. ”

Education

Adelphi University
MBA, Finance

Hofstra University
BBA, Public Accounting 

J. Melville (“Mel”) Engle, BS, MBA

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
& CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD
Predictive Oncology
At Predictive Oncology
Mr. Engle became POAI’s CEO in 2021 and was appointed to the POAI Board of Directors in 2016. He was elected Chairman of the Board in 2020.
Before Predictive Oncology

Between 2012 and 2021, he was CEO of Engle Strategic Solutions, a consulting and coaching company focused on CEO issues. From 2009 to 2012, he was CEO and Chairman of Thermogenesis, a cell separation company. From 2002 to 2007, he was Regional Head/Director, North America at Merck Generics and CEO of Dey Laboratories, a respiratory company. From 1996 to 2001, he was CEO and Chairman of Anika Therapeutics, an orthobiologics company. From 1980 to 1995, he was with Allergan, Inc., an eye and skin care company, where he served as CFO, Managing Director (living in Toronto), and other positions with the firm.

“ Eliminating cancer is our overall goal.  This is not an easy task.  We are working hard every day to make this happen, using our novel technology and talented team of employees. ”

Education

University of Southern California
School of Business
MBA, Finance

University of Colorado Boulder
BS, Accounting