Researcher profile


Professor Corrado Santocanale

Introducing Corrado Santocanale

Professor Corrado Santocanale was appointed to the Chair in Molecular Medicine, established through a private donation to NUI Galway, the first such post in the NCBES. A native of Milan, Italy, Santocanale was previously employed in industry as Principal Research Scientist for Nerviano Medical Sciences- Oncology and has worked in the area of drug discovery since the late-90s. Already aware of the high caliber of research being conducted at NUI Galway, Santocanale saw the creation of the Chair in Molecular Medicine post as an ideal opportunity to return to academia.

“I knew about the work being done in Galway, and as it was always my intention to go back from industry to academia, I was motivated to join the team at the NCBES,” reports Santocanale.

Charged with the task of establishing core research related to new drug targets for cancer therapy, he also aims to implement a translational research programme linking the basic research of the NCBES, specifically the Genome Stability and Apoptosis research clusters, and the clinical research based in University College Hospital, Galway. The identification of potential targets for drug discovery will be a long-term goal.

"The most interesting part of the process is to start with an idea and seeing it develop into a drug that has the potential to improve the outcome of cancer patients"

In 1988, Santocanale graduated with a BSc in Biology from the University of Milan having achieved top honours, and went on to complete a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology in 1993 with a focus on the characterization of enzymes involved in the duplication of the DNA where he succeeded in identifying the gene encoding the first eukaryotic DNA primase large subunit.

Continuing the work he initiated as a postgraduate, he spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Milan before moving to the UK to take up a postdoctoral fellowship in the laboratory of Dr. John Diffley, ICRF London Research Institute, (now Cancer Research UK). While there he conducted work on cell cycle control of DNA replication, focusing on molecular mechanisms that are important for the activation of DNA replication origins. A major finding was the identification and characterization of the “origin firing checkpoint”, a part of the biochemical pathway that is activated in response to DNA damage and to replication fork blockade, thus preventing the activation of new replication origins.

Having joined Pharmacia and Upjohn (PNU) in 1999 at the Nerviano Discovery Oncology site northwest of Milan, Santocanale contributed to the development of a cell cycle programme for cancer therapeutics. Following the acquisition and integration of Sugen into PNU, a subsequent merger and an acquisition by Pfizer, he came to be employed in Nerviano Medical Sciences, a spin-off of the Pfizer takeover. From 2000, he acted as leader of a drug discovery project with the goal of identifying small molecular weight kinase inhibitors and their development into new anticancer drugs. The principal responsibilities of the post included the biological characterization of the molecular target and the discovery of a novel drug for the treatment of cancer, as well as managing experimental activities related to the project. Some of his earliest work in Nerviano involved the identification of the second “cyclin like” regulatory subunit of the human Cdc7 kinase and the identification of a biochemical pathway, altered in cancer cells, responding to the inhibition of the Cdc7 kinase.

  “The most interesting part of the process is to start with an idea and seeing it develop into a drug that has the potential to improve the outcome of cancer patients” explains Santocanale.

Currently in the process of building a research team, Santocanale recently recruited Raffaella D’Auria, a postgraduate researcher who will continue the work related to the characterization of Cdc7 kinase function in tumor cells.

"Researchers will build upon drug development work that I began in my previous post," explains Santocanale.

Plans are in place to expand the team further in the coming months. Having acted as scientific supervisor to PhD students in previous positions, Santocanale looks forward to future interactions with young researchers and has plans to contribute to the MSc in Biomedical Science programme offered through the NCBES.

Scientific findings published

With scientific findings published in the major scientific journals including Nature, EMBO Journal, Genes and Development, Cancer Research and Journal of Biological Chemistry, as well as extensive experience the drug development process, Santocanale is set to become another valuable member of the NCBES research community.

Corrado Santocanale

Professor Corrado Santocanale