Nicole Nunez
Innovative cancer chemotherapy therapeutics

Note: Nicole Nunez was a Keller Pathway Fellow in 2017/18. This interview was conducted in fall 2017.

After receiving a B.S. in molecular biology at UC Davis and an M.S. in biochemistry at San Francisco State University, Nicole Nunez is pursuing a Ph.D. in bio-organic chemistry with a designated emphasis in biotechnology. Her current research involves designing innovative cancer chemotherapy therapeutics.

In a nutshell, describe your project or venture.

Our venture involves designing therapeutics that only target the defective forms of proteins implicated in cancer and not present in normal cells. In addition, our therapeutics enclose within a targeted drug delivery system that is specific to an identified cancer cell type. The combination of these two approaches diminishes the possibility of side effects while ensuring maximal potency where the anticancer drug is needed most.

What’s important about your research or project—and where do you hope to take it?

Current cancer chemotherapy treatments are seldom curative, and are often accompanied by toxic side effects and abysmal prognoses. Commonly prescribed chemotherapeutics lack target specificity in both cell type and gene or protein of interest, resulting in the destruction of healthy cells in addition to cancer. We hope to make these treatments available to patients as quickly as possible via accelerated FDA approval for gene specific cancer subtypes.

What are you most passionate about in your work?

I am most passionate about having a chance to help those afflicted by cancer via our curative therapies. In addition, I am passionate about serving as a role model for girls and women in STEM and bio-business.

What was the most important thing you learned at the Entrepreneurship Academy?

The most important thing I learned at the UC Entrepreneurship Academy were the tools to develop easy-to-understand statements regarding our science venture and communicating the worth of our product to others.

What is the most unexpected advice you received from a mentor?

The most unexpected advice I received from a mentor was to negotiate salary, benefits, etc. even if you are a recent graduate from a Ph.D. program.

Do you have a project/venture in mind for the Big Bang! Business Competition? How do you expect participation in the Big Bang! workshops and  competition to help you as an aspiring entrepreneur?

I expect the Big Bang! workshops and competition to prepare me for the business side of science. This includes communication, valuation and turning our ideas into real word products.

The Keller Pathway Fellowship Program specifically supports women, cross-disciplinary researchers and other underrepresented university-based entrepreneurs. Do you have any insight, experience or concern you’d like to share?

I feel it is important to serve as a role model for aspiring scientists, and to remember to help those not only in a pre/early–STEM career, but also those who are lateral and above you to succeed.

How will your experiences as a Keller Pathway Fellow help you to change the world?

This will be my first chance to enhance my ability as an entrepreneur in addition to being a scientist. As a Keller Pathway Fellow I will be able to convince others why our anticancer therapies are worth investing in and could serve as a unique curative strategy that will result in a world without of cancer.