July 2011

Science Focus on industry members

He joined the global pharma giant straight out of graduate school, earning his doctorate degree in chemistry from the Complutense University of Madrid. “My graduate mentor had many connections with industry people and often took his pupils to visit several companies’ facilities, which gave me good opportunity to see what an industry career would be like,” Domínguez says. “I thought industry would be a great place to pursue my interests in enzymology, and I had good timing as Glaxo just opened a new center in Spain when I finished my Ph.D.”

 
Noscira has a library of over 20,000 natural products extracted from various marine organisms, including starfish.

His early work in Glaxo’s biochemistry department involved studying the mode of action for various novel antifungal agents to understand how they specifically targeted fungi but not other eukaryotes. His work retained quite a bit of academic flavor, but he did begin to see some of the differences of working in industry compared to a university.

“I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing, but working at a biotech or pharma does require a scientist to be more pragmatic about his projects,” he notes. “So if anyone is thinking about going into the industry sector, they should take into account that sometimes they have to let promising experiments go.”

In 2001, following the merger of Glaxo and SmithKline Beecham (which also had a center in Tres Cantos), he moved on to the assay development team. His specialty was developing and miniaturizing assays for hard-to-obtain proteins; during that time he managed to develop a process for assaying substrates of fatty acid synthase – which is very hard to prepare in large quantities – that only required 3 ml sample sizes.

Those skills in protein biochemistry and running assays are valuable for Noscira, which has a library of more than 20,000 marine natural extracts for screening. Equally valuable has been the international exposure Domínguez received in his nearly two decades at GSK; though he has spent most of his time in his hometown of Madrid, Domínguez has worked in laboratories throughout Europe and the U.S. That international interaction has given Domínguez important perspectives on success.

“In the United States, for example, which has a long history in the pharmaceutical industry, I’ve seen successful places often have matrix management with a strong horizontal leadership,” he says. “That is, a senior executive will listen to junior researchers because they have the in-depth knowledge about studies, and this is less common in Europe, where hierarchy is still quite vertical.”

But the scientific talent certainly is there, and with a little time, Domínguez thinks the mindset will shift as well. Soon, Spain’s homegrown biotechs will be as highly regarded as its many other cultural contributions.

 

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