July 2011

Science Focus on industry members

Mary Bossard

Senior Fellow, Nektar Therapeutics
Huntsville, Alabama

As she prepared to graduate from high school, Mary Bossard received an interesting offer from her father. “He agreed to pay for my college education, so long as I picked a major with which, in his words, I could earn a living.”

Perhaps not the most romantic way to enter the world of chemistry, but in the end the deal has certainly worked out in Bossard’s favor. At Nektar Therapeutics in the underrated science hub of Hunstville, Ala., Bossard not only has made a living but also has found a stimulating environment where she can pursue academic and applied challenges while developing new polyethylene glycol-conjugated molecules to treat a variety of diseases.

Initially, Bossard thought that her career would follow a purely academic path, believing that was the only viable option. Raised and educated in the American heartland (the native Iowan earned her bachelor’s degree from Central College in Pella, Iowa, and her doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), her exposure to industry chemistry was limited to the industrial and agricultural sectors.

But then a new world opened during her postdoctoral fellowship – which, like college, ended up as a brokered deal.

“My advisor had suggested moving away from the Midwest, so I thought it would be great to go to a foreign country; but my husband stipulated that our destination country had to speak English,” she notes.

“So we ended up in California.”

At Judith Klinman’s laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, to be exact; and during that time, Bossard attended an ASBMB meeting in San Francisco and saw a poster from Monsanto researchers detailing mechanistic studies of inhibitors for plant enzymes.

“The work was similar to my own enzyme studies in animals,” she says, “except for the fact that I had to make my own radiolabeled substrates and inhibitors while they had a department which synthesized them.”

Envy aside, Bossard realized that industry did offer a broad spectrum of research pursuits.

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