Professor Ian Collins is fascinated by how to make new molecules with useful biological activities. His work at the ICR aims to discover and develop new drugs to treat cancer, and he has been involved in drug discovery research for 25 years since starting his career as a medicinal chemist in a major pharmaceutical company. Professor Collins has a strong interest in using protein structures to understand how drugs bind to their target proteins, and how to improve their properties.
His Medicinal Chemistry 2 Team has transformed several hit compounds to potent and selective potential drug molecules using this approach including the discovery of AKT and CHK1 kinase inhibitors leading to clinical candidates. As well as kinase enzymes, the team has studied the inhibition of other types of proteins involved in cancer, such as the molecular chaperones HSP90 and HSP70.
Current drug discovery targets include the kinesin motor protein HSET and the substrate binding functions of the poly-ADP ribose polymerase TNKS. Professor Collins is working together with Professor Raj Chopra to exploit the small molecule-induced degradation of proteins as an exciting alternative to classical inhibition, and is the scientific co-founder of a spin-out company, Monte Rosa Therapeutics, investigating this approach to cancer therapy.
The team also discovers new small molecule tools and collaborates extensively with colleagues in the ICR and other organisations to use these compounds to understand cancer biology, and to learn how to exploit this for treatment.
Professor Collins has a long-standing interest in the synthesis of heterocycles and many of his team’s projects look at new, efficient ways to put together these medicinally important molecules.
Before joining The Institute of Cancer Research, London, Professor Collins trained as a synthetic chemist under the supervision of Professor Andrew B Holmes at Cambridge University, receiving a PhD for research into a new way of making alkaloid natural products.
He joined the Neuroscience Research Centre of Merck Sharp & Dohme Ltd as a drug discovery chemist, researching new drugs to treat psychiatric and neurological disorders. Major contributions included the discovery of the first selective antagonists for the dopamine D4 receptor, the development of sub-type selective GABA-A agonists as anxiolytics, and the discovery of potent gamma-secretase inhibitors for the treatment of Alzheimers disease.
In 2003, Professor Collins moved to his current post in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit at the ICR, becoming a Reader in Medicinal Chemistry in 2008, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 2013, and Head of Chemistry in 2018.
He is a member of the Small Molecule Expert Review Panel for Cancer Research UK (CRUK), a Scientific Advisory Board member for the Chemical Probes Portal, and has provided medicinal chemistry consultancy for several biotechnology companies. Professor Collins is a Senior Editor for the journal Molecular Cancer Therapeutics, published by the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), and was recently Volume Editor for the oncology section of the major reference work, Comprehensive Medicinal Chemistry.
He is a co-recipient of the CRUK Translational Research Prize and the AACR Team Science Award.