Using Imageable Biomarkers in Drug Development

As medicine has transitioned into the precision era, the scientific community appreciates now more than ever how important it is to treat patients individually. In addition to the remarkable progress that the community has made in defining upfront those patients most likely to respond to drugs with genetic techniques, there is an urgent unmet clinical need to define biomarkers that can be conveniently applied post-therapy to demonstrate the extent of target inhibition by drug.

Mike Evans, PhD, is an assistant professor in residence in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Evans is trained in biomarker discovery and biomarker development for imaging. He and his group develop new radiologic tools to monitor the activity of the main drivers of disease. The overall goal of his research is to create an archive of imageable biomarkers that can selectively measure the activity of all disease drivers.

Dr. Evans argues that his research is an essential yet understudied component of precision medicine. “When it comes to drug development, understanding the extent to which drugs are inhibiting their target is critically important. We know this because of data collected from a recent clinical trial in melanoma—the drug Zelboraf® required careful study of its dosing to maximize target inhibition to ultimately achieve FDA approval. It is a difficult challenge to develop imaging tools to monitor target inhibition for other drugs, but this challenge needs our immediate attention.” 

He also points out that radiologic tools are uniquely appropriate to monitor disease response to drugs. “Radiologic tools have a special place in clinical diagnostics because they have the capacity to non-invasively measure biological changes induced by the drug within the diseased cell. Biopsy can also achieve this, but post therapy biopsies are rare and heavily burden the patient. Circulating biomarkers can be sampled non-invasively, but they do not report on the biology occurring within the diseased cell. At UCSF, we have had great success motivating patients to voluntarily participate in a post-therapy scan, because the imposition on the patient is very minimal, and the information gleaned from such a scan can be highly informative.”  

Dr. Evans adds about his decision to begin his independent research career at UCSF: “I have been really blessed to be welcomed into the Radiology Department at UCSF. UCSF has been a leader in the precision medicine movement. Several faculty in this department have been pioneers in developing MRI-based biomarkers to measure drug response, including Drs. Nelson and Ronen in brain tumors, and Drs. Vigneron and Kurhanewicz in prostate cancer. My work in nuclear imaging complements these ongoing research programs. With the enthusiasm of the department and the greater UCSF community for my research, we have already opened one clinical trial, with at least three more pending. It speaks to the outstanding initiative and collaborative spirit of UCSF faculty that we have been able to collaborate to achieve these milestones so quickly.”

If you're interested in Dr. Evans' research ongoing clinical trials, he welcomes direct contact via email or through the website for his lab.  

Michael Evans, PhD, is an assistant professor in residence in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco. He is an experienced chemical biologist with a focus on molecular imaging and organic chemistry. Dr. Evans earned a BA in Chemistry from St. Mary’s College, Maryland and a PhD in Organic Chemistry from The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California under the supervision of Professor Benjamin Cravatt, followed by postdoctoral fellowship in Molecular Imaging from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York under the supervision of Professors Charles Sawyers and Jason Lewis. In October 2013, Dr. Evans accepted the Assistant Professor in Residence position UCSF China Basin.

Dr. Evans specializes in small molecule synthesis, proteomics, and preclinical development of radiotracers, particularly on genitourinary cancers in the prostate, the kidneys, and the bladder. Dr. Evans and his research group want to focus and address the challenge of applying proteomic and nuclear medicine technologies to develop a streamlined research program dedicated to the identification and validation of new tumor biomarkers. By combining his expertise in chemical biology and molecular imaging, Dr. Evans’s research program seeks to target events more closely related to the biology of important drug targets that may increase the information content of PET scans, strategies that repurpose existing technologies, and exploiting "omic" technologies, which can be an highly effective way to identify new candidates for imaging and radiotherapy programs.

Dr. Evans is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Association for Cancer Research, the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging, and the World Molecular Imaging Society. He has been invited nationally and internationally to lecture on various topics. Dr. Evans is co-author and co-investigator of published journals and research grants, and he has written 19 peer-reviewed articles and 7 abstracts.