July 2011

Meet some of our members in industry

For this issue, we asked several of our members who work in industry to answer some questions about themselves and their research. 


Charles R. Cantor

Chief scientific officer 
Sequenom, Inc. 
San Diego, Calif.  

How long have you been an ASBMB member? 
Seems like I’ve been a member of ASBMB forever – I think I was a member of the American Society for Biological Chemists before the “Molecular Biology” was added. (Editor’s note: Cantor joined ASBMB in 1969). 

What is the focus of your company? 
I have three active companies. Sequenom, the company I actually work for, has two focus areas: We are a technology provider of automated nucleic acid mass spectrometers used in a variety of applications from plant and animal genetics to somatic mutation analysis in tumor biopsies. We also are a diagnostic service provider focused on noninvasive prenatal diagnostics and ophthalmology using nucleic acid biomarkers. For diagnostic services we are technology agnostic.

My second company, DiThera, is developing both therapeutic and diagnostic applications of nucleic acid-mediated protein complementation, a method of detecting specific RNA sequences in living cells or manipulating the properties of cells that express these sequences.

And finally, Retrotope concentrates on novel ways to combat oxidative stress in a variety of disease indications. Instead of using antioxidants or other scavengers, we use essential nutrients reinforced by heavy isotopes at key positions to strengthen these potential substrates against oxidative attack.

What is the focus of your research? 
I don’t do much research myself anymore, but I am still interested in developing new methodologies. Mostly, I make suggestions that are sometimes followed by one of the three companies.

Why did you go into industry? 
I found that it was easier to raise money to support risky but potentially high-impact innovative projects in industry than it was in academia.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years? 
We have a plethora of new tools that affect both diagnostics and therapeutics, but as always, the key obstacle is finding killer commercial applications for these tools.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company? 
Because diagnostics and therapeutics are highly regulated industries, I think they are subject more to fluctuations in the regulatory climate than in the economic climate.

Oliver Chao 

Sanofi-Aventis Exploratory R&D   
Paris-Chilly Mazarin, France 
 

How long have you been an ASBMB member? 
You are trying to guess my age? Well, let’s say more than 10 years now.

What is the focus of your company? 
Patient-centered health care and therapeutic development

What is the focus of your research? 
Actually, the foci of my research: I am in full-blown exploration in the fields of sensory systems, designed-synthetic biology and bio-inspired devices. In addition, I pay special attention to circadian rhythm and neuro-oncology.

Why did you go into industry? 
When I landed in Paris (relocating with my wife, who’s French), it was impossible for non-European citizens to obtain permanent (tenured) positions in the French research institutions. So after a year of a postdoctoral fellowship at INSERM/College de France, when the opportunity to join a pharmaceutical company in the Paris area appeared I did not hesitate. In retrospect, I think I have more flexibility to be involved in wide spectrums of biological sciences because of being in pharma R&D. Naturally, if your scientific interest is very specific or your goal is Nobel-ish, industry may deprive you of your focus.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years? 
As fun as prediction is, the pharma industry or the pharma research paradigm is predictable only in the frame of about two to three years. As far as my company is concerned, I think the general strategy of patient-centered drug discovery is a very wise and feasible goal for pharma researchers to achieve in five to 10 years.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company? 
Pharma industry does not really reflect closely the main street/Wall Street pulse. What I believe is that through open-minded adaptation and well-thought-out collaboration, we can face any challenge, any change.

 

Robert S. McCollum 

Research associate 
Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd.
 
Laval, Québec  

How long have you been an ASBMB member?  
I’ve been a member since 2000.

What is the focus of your company? 
We do antiviral drug discovery.

What is the focus of your research? 
I look at biochemical and cellular assays as well as protein purification.

Why did you go into industry?  
There are better opportunities at my level (I have a Master of Science).

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years?  
I see more biotherapeutics being developed.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company?
Changes have already occurred with cutbacks and refocusing of priorities. Reorganization is an on-going activity.

 

Yasushi Noguchi  

Senior researcher 
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. 
Kawsaki, Japan 
 

How long have you been an ASBMB member? 
About four years.

What is the focus of your company? 
Ajinomoto Co., Inc. focuses on various issues, such as seasoning, processed food, beverages, nutrition, pharmaceuticals and fine biochemicals.

What is the focus of your research? 
My research has focused on metabolomic profiling for clinical diagnosis including cancers, diabetes and so on. I also do network modeling of metabolic pathways using metabolomics with stable isotopic flux analysis. Using these technologies, we will start a cancer-screening service in Japan this year.

Why did you go into industry? 
I wanted to engage in projects ranging from research to development to business.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years? 
I think that the correlation between R&D costs and achievements is getting worse in many industries. Therefore, most industries will be willing to be open to innovation in outsourcing research to universities or other ventures, and cutting their internal core-research labs.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company? 
At this time, it makes little sense, thinking about just the economy inside my own country. In any case, we will do research for businesses in emerging countries.

 

Cynthia Oliver

MedImmune, Inc.
North Potomac, Md.
 

How long have you been an ASBMB member?
I have been a member of ASBMB since the late 1970s or early 1980s (approximately 30 years).

What is the focus of your company?
I am currently an independent consultant in the development of biotechnology products. I have previously worked at Merck and Company, Inc., and MedImmune, LLC. At both companies I was primarily engaged in biologics. Until I retired from MedImmune in 2010, I was vice president of process biochemistry and formulation sciences. The focus of MedImmune is the development of biologically derived therapeutic agents targeted toward infectious disease, cancer, immunology and autoimmunity as well as vaccine development

What is the focus of your research?
The focus of my research has been to design and develop processes to express, purify, formulate and deliver biologically derived products as therapeutic agents and vaccines. There are many components to process and product development research at MedImmune, including biochemistry, molecular biology, cellular regulation, chemical engineering, virology and protein chemistry. In addition, the scope of my research covers products targeted toward many disease areas involving a variety of complex biological or cellular processes. The formulation part of my research involves investigation of protein chemistry, covalent modification of proteins, protein conformation and stabilization. In the course of my time in industry, I have worked on a variety of products that have been commercialized, such as Ethyol®, Synagis®, FluMist®, Vaqta®, Cervarix®, Cytogam®, Recombivax HB® and several others that have not yet received regulatory approval.

Why did you go into industry?
I went into industry as an extension of my biochemistry training in Earl Stadtman’s laboratory at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. I have found process and product development exciting and extremely challenging because it involves so many diverse areas of scientific investigation. In addition, process and product development routinely requires the development of new technology and innovative approaches to difficult problems.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years?
I believe the research for the biopharmaceutical industry will continue to grow and provide many opportunities in the next five to 10 years. The development and implementation of new technology to enhance the specificity of cellular targets in many disease areas, especially cancer, immunological, cardiovascular and neurological diseases, will continue to have a strong focus. Some examples might include the development of protein products, RNAi, antisense oligonucleotides and exon skipping, nanoparticle technology, controlled release formulations, and novel formulations targeting selective uptake of drugs by specific cells or tissues. There is an ongoing effort to refine product characterization and understand protein conformation, covalent modification, glycosylation of proteins and their interactions with other biological molecules. Other examples of the biochemical engineering component needed to support biopharmaceutical development might include the new and innovative design of processing equipment to streamline processes, the development of new technology for online process monitoring, and control or spray-dry technology to stabilize biopharmaceuticals, thereby making world-wide distribution feasible.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company?
The biopharmaceutical industry is always changing even in a slow economy. Hiring may not be quite as robust as in 2000 – 2007, but I believe there are still a variety of interesting and challenging opportunities for biochemists and molecular biologists in many different types of companies, such as large corporate entities, small entrepreneurial companies where scientists wear many hats, and companies that conduct contract research, such as toxicology or viral safety, analytical methods development, instrumentation or analytical reagent preparation, or growth media development for cell culture.
 

 

Cynthia Tuthill 

Senior vice president and chief scientific officer 
SciClone Pharmaceuticals Inc.  
Foster City, Calif. 
 

How long have you been an ASBMB member? 
I think since 1984 (when I got my Ph.D.).

What is the focus of your company? 
Pharmaceuticals, with a focus on sales in China.

What is the focus of your research? 
Preclinical research for immune-modulating compounds. I don’t do the research myself but use collaborations with academic groups or with contract research organizations.

Why did you go into industry?
I wanted to make new medicines for people, to alleviate suffering.

Where do you see research in industry going in five to 10 years? 
I see more and more virtual companies like ours who use contract research organizations to do routine studies and academic collaborators to do development and discovery work.

With the economy improving, are you seeing any changes in your job or company? 
Yes. Our sales are strong and we have a good cash balance. Also I notice people are moving around from company to company again, moving up the ladder by moving into new positions in new companies.

Nicole Kresge (nkresge@asbmb.org) is the editor of ASBMB Today. 


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