• The below article appeared in the January-February Edition of the Penn State University Alumni Magazine

    Varun Prabhu ’16 PhD IDF has been passionate about cancer research ever since he was an undergrad studying pharmaceutical science in Mumbai. He arrived at Penn State Hershey in 2010 to work on a doctorate in molecular medicine, a field that drew him in, he says, “because, at the most fundamental level, it is about understanding what goes wrong with normal cells in the body, and using that knowledge to help patients.” Prabhu began his doctoral research by studying stem cell-like cancer cells known to promote cancer growth and recurrence. Varun-PSU PresidentIn 2012, that re search led him to collaborate with the Philadelphia based biopharmaceutical company Oncoceutics, Inc., to study a promising new class of anti-cancer molecules called imipridones. Prabhu’s research showed that an imipridone known as ONC201 could reduce tumor growth by targeting the cellular pathways that fuel chemotherapy-resistant stem cell-like cancer cells. Because of his work, Prabhu (pictured here with President Barron) was a recipient of the 2016 Penn State Alumni Association Dissertation Award. Today, Prabhu is a full-time research scientist at Oncoceutics, and ONC201 is in clinical trials, where it’s shown evidence of clinical benefit in advanced cancer patients who had exhausted all other treatment options—and potentially without the trying side effects. How does it feel to be part of that project? “Humbling,” Prabhu says, noting that ONC201’s early success is due to the “tireless effort” of many people over many years. Of course, he adds, it’s exciting to see the drug go from lab to trial: “My dream as a scientist, aside from being passionate about the science and publishing papers, is always that the work amounts to something meaningful for society.” —CHRISTINE SPEER LEJEUNE