Chief Scientific Officer
Imiplex LLC, Yardley, Penn.
Re-entering the work force after taking an extended leave can be a challenging proposition. Such was the case with Patricia Weber, who took a break from a long and fruitful career in the industry sector in 2001 to spend more time with her family (though she remained active by doing scientific consulting and serving on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Faculty of 1000).
A few years later, with her younger son now ready for college, Weber felt an itch to resume her research pursuits. Considering her options, she decided to try something a little bold; teaming up with a former co-worker, Ray Salemme, she formed a new company called Imiplex, billed as offering nanosolutions for the 21st century.
“Nanotechnology is a relatively young field, especially protein-based nanotechnology, which is our focus,” Weber notes. But, it’s also a field that has tremendous growth potential in many disciplines (as noted in the June issue of ASBMB Today).
The idea behind Imiplex, which was started with the help of a pair of Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research grants, is to design modular molecular protein nanostructures that can self-assemble into a variety of architectures. Weber and her team use highly stable proteins taken from thermophiles as the starting point, making them easier to manipulate and derivatize while retaining their native structures.
Once complete, Imiplex will sell both the individual modules of the platform and the technology required to assemble the supramolecular structures. Customers can purchase prefunctionalized modules or functionalize the components themselves, offering flexibility in how the technology is used.
Of course, Weber has her own visions and interests, and plans on making some specially designed products as well. “My personal interest is to help improve quality of life in developing countries, and thermostable nano-assemblies can be used outside of biological settings, so I see potential in areas like water purification.”
This type of endeavor brings together all of Weber’s previous biological expertise, built up over 25 years in academia and industry. It all began with her doctorate at the University of Arizona in 1979, followed by a postdoc with Nobel-winning crystallographer Thomas Steitz at Yale University. Afterwards, she joined Genex Corp. where she worked on one of the first teams involved in engineering industrial enzymes, and then took positions at DuPont and Schering-Plough, where she carried out structure-based drug design.
“I often point out to students that during most of my career, I remained at the bench,” Weber says, “because I think that’s an advantage of industry if you like the hands-on aspect of doing experiments.”