Young Innovator Award: Feixiong Cheng, PhD


Genomic Medicine Researcher, Feixiong Cheng, PhD, is the youngest member of Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute., Dr. Cheng earned his PhD in Shanghai in 2013, followed by postdoctoral training at Vanderbilt University where he came into his own in the field of pharmacogenomics. After working for nearly two and a half years to identify genetic variations and their relation to drug response, he translated his research experience to a position at Harvard University. At Harvard, Dr. Cheng explored the area of network medicine – the concept of complex data sets to analyze human disease. Joining Cleveland Clinic in 2018, his work in network medicine continued with the establishment of his own lab. Having progressed leaps and bounds toward understanding and predicting drug targets for varied diseases in his short time at Cleveland Clinic and the research field in general, Dr. Cheng was selected as 2020’s Young Innovator.

The primary goal of Dr. Cheng’s lab can be described as combining tools from network medicine, artificial intelligence (AI), genomics, bioinformatics, computational biology, chemical biology, experimental pharmacology, and systems biology assays to understand various complex human diseases. With these tools, the lab looks to identify novel real-world, data-driven diagnostic biomarkers and therapeutic approaches for precision medicine, remedying the complex, expensive, and time-consuming processes seen with traditional drug discovery. To date, the lab has worked in three disease areas: cardio-oncology, neurodegenerative, and infectious disease.

In the cardio-oncology space, Dr. Cheng and his team have utilized Electronic Health Record (EHR) data to predict the cardiotoxicity of cancer therapeutics. Supported by an NIH Career Development Award, the lab is screening, monitoring, and treating cancer survivors with cardiac dysfunction resulting from cancer treatments. The team’s approach incorporates not only genetic variations but also gene expression, the human protein-protein interactome, metabolomic, proteomic, exposomic, phenotypic, and real-world data to coordinate patient-centered treatment for long-term heart and vascular care of cancer survivors. At the same time, Dr. Cheng’s lab has applied his novel network medicine approach and affinity for genome sequence data to predict a novel treatment target for the neurodegenerative disease of Alzheimer’s. Funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in April 2020, Dr. Cheng and his team have gathered strong preliminary data for Alzheimer’s drug discovery.

At the end of February 2020, Dr. Cheng and his lab further diversified their research portfolio via an immediate need for a greater understanding of COVID-19. Tasked with utilizing their multi-omic, network medicine, and AI skillsets, the lab set to work identifying drugs to be repositioned to combat the novel virus. Dr. Cheng is very proud of the speed and accuracy with which his team was able to pull together such information – becoming the first lab in the U.S. to publish computational work using large scale data to identify repurposed drug candidates for COVID treatment. After identifying a few existing drug formulations, Dr. Cheng proposed a clinical trial to test the combination of said therapeutics in early-stage COVID-19 patients. The study has been approved by Cleveland Clinic and the FDA, and the team is now planning patient recruitment. 

When asked of his experience with Cleveland Clinic Innovations, Dr. Cheng said he was grateful for the efforts the CCI team has put forth since he arrived just a few years ago. He specifically cited the team’s ability to help him grasp the bigger picture in therapeutic development. “They helped me think beyond academic research and plan for the long-term – plan for the translation to market to truly help patients,” said Dr. Cheng. We at Cleveland Clinic Innovations are so proud of Dr. Cheng, his innovative spirit, and the remarkable status he’s achieved in a relatively short time. This year’s young innovator, we again congratulate Dr. Feixiong Cheng.

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