Spotlight on Farah Hedjran

Mar 20, 2023

The list of Iranians living in America who have done great things is long and includes Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, Isaac Larian, the founder, and CEO of MGA entertainment, Salar Kamangar, a senior executive at Google and a former CEO of YouTube, Manny Mashouf, founder of Bebe stores, and renowned fashion designer, Elie Tahari.

Add to this list EpicentRx Director of Viral Research and Development, Farah Hedjran, who has worked under the aegis of Dr. Tony Reid, CEO of EpicentRx, for over 20 years to help develop, not an online auction house, a clothing line, a toy store, an internet search engine, or a brand, but something infinitely more valuable—a “franchise” of oncolytic (“onco” = cancer and “lytic” = burst) adenoviruses with the potential to bring hope to cancer patients and a fighting chance at long-term survival.

Oncolytic adenoviruses (OVs) are agents of the common cold that Tony Reid cleverly re-engineered to seek out and destroy cancer cells preferentially and selectively. These “mother” viruses ‘hijack’ and co-opt the cancer cells to make “daughter” viruses and release them through lysis. The cycle repeats itself over and over as these released daughter viruses infect adjacent tumor cells and so direct the production of more daughter viruses that, like their predecessors, are lytically “born” with one mission and one mission only—to make more viruses and never to stop or abandon that mission, no matter what. (Fair to say that if Arnold Schwarzenegger ever played an Austrian-accented OV killing machine in the movies, he’d deliver the following catchphrase just before lysis of the cancer cell: “hasta la virus, baby!”) By the way, Farah’s native language is Farsi, the official language of Iran, which is rich in French loanwords such as “merci”, and the second most spoken after Arabic in the Middle East.

One of the viruses that Farah worked on is called AdAPT-001. This virus, which carries a transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) trap that binds to or “traps” a pro-tumor protein, TGF-β, is under investigation in an ongoing Phase 1/2 clinical trial and so far, all indications point to it outperforming expectations.

Similarly, Farah Hedjran has always gone above and beyond what was expected of her. Because of her academic excellence, Farah was one of the few students that received a visa to come to San Diego in 1979 at age 17. There, she attended San Diego State and graduated with a Masters in molecular biology. That led to a research position at the University of California – San Diego (UCSD) where she met Dr. Tony Reid, and the rest is history.

Tony and Farah’s ongoing, over 20-year research collaboration centers on different ways to attack the direst of human cancers mostly, but not exclusively, with the use of oncolytic adenoviruses. In this process, she has dedicated her life to the identification and discovery of treatment solutions for the most difficult biological problems that confront humanity.

Honestly, Farah is a great person and one of the very best. She has already made a real, lasting impact, especially for patients with incurable and/or untreatable diseases that are in desperate need of new and better therapeutic options. We should all say to Farah in our best Farsi, “merci”.