Drug development is typically a protracted, years-long process. But Westley Tear’s doctoral work tries to shrink that timeline by focusing on compounds that have already been studied in humans. He repurposes them to target parasites that cause neglected tropical diseases — illnesses that have received little attention from drug researchers.
Tear’s thesis focuses on repurposing kinase inhibitors, commonly used to treat inflammation and certain forms of cancer. Working with the Laboratory for Neglected Disease Drug Discovery, he’s studying their effectiveness against diseases like African sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, which disproportionately affect impoverished populations. If a compound shows promise, he optimizes it to improve its potency and behavior in the body—its absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion. “I was drawn to medicinal chemistry because it requires so much problem solving, and you have a chance to make a real impact on people’s health and lives,” he explains.
Thanks to Northeastern, Tear is currently doing a full-time, yearlong research internship at pharmaceutical powerhouse GSK, which gives him access to world-class resources and later-stage discussions about drug development. At Northeastern, his honors include the Gordon Research Seminar on Medicinal Chemistry Outstanding Poster in 2017 and the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award in 2015. After graduation, he intends to continue working in the pharmaceutical industry.