July 2011

Science Focus on industry members

She first started down that path as a bench chemist at Smith, Kline & French (now GlaxoSmithKline) near Philadelphia studying enzymatic drug targets. After several years, she got an opportunity to move closer to home and try something different at a small, private company in Lincoln called Bio Nebraska. There, she used enzymes as reagents instead of targets to create and modify recombinant peptides.

At Nektar, Mary Bossard focuses on PEG therapeutics.

“I viewed this period almost like a training exercise,” she says. “I developed new skills, got exposure to the downstream side of research and manufacturing, and learned how to write research methods, batch records and reports to support a GMP manufacturing process.”

The constant risk, of course, was that the small company might run out of money, which eventually happened in 2002. However, a search consultant soon called her up with a job description that sounded absolutely great. Then he added that it was in Alabama.

“I replied that there weren’t any pharmaceutical companies in Alabama, and the consultant clarified that Shearwater Polymers was technically considered a drug delivery company, but the job requirements fit very well with my skill sets.”

At the time Bossard joined, Shearwater Polymers (owned by Inhale) was primarily a catalog business that designed and provided PEG reagents to pharmaceutical companies for protein conjugation work; a lot of her early work involved traveling with the business teams to perform PEG dog-and-pony shows. Over the years, the company changed its name to Nektar and adapted its business model and now focuses on PEG therapeutics instead of reagents.

“We don’t carry out de novo drug discovery but rather take known entities that have some level of clinical validation and make chemical improvements,” she explains. We develop some PEGylated molecules on our own while also partnering with other companies to help them get protein conjugates into the clinic faster than they would have done working on their own.” One partner, Baxter, is submitting the European equivalent of an IND to test a new PEGylated blood factor for hemophilia A in the clinic this summer.

As senior fellow, Bossard now primarily leads teams; she oversees all of the partner protein projects and the in-house protein platform work that addresses the mechanistic questions about how and why the protein conjugates work.

“It was a blind plunge when I first came here in 2002,” she says, noting that the words “drug delivery” and “Alabama” never crossed her mind when she began looking for a new job. But she ended up following an important mantra that she considers good advice for other young scientists thinking about industry: “You have to be open to new opportunities and let the organization speak for itself.”

Nick Zagorski (nicozags@gmail.com) is a freelance science writer.

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