Young Emory scientists wanted a taste of what biotech business careers might be like. So they visited the world’s largest poultry industry conference, and got advice from officials at the Food and Drug Administration – all within a couple months.
“I learned a ton about chickens – more than I thought possible. I’ve been explaining it all to my friends,” says Henry Zecca, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.
Zecca’s experience and others emerged at a “Gala” Tuesday evening showcasing the Emory Biotech Consulting Club, which aimed to pair student advisory teams with fledgling startup companies emerging from university research.
Congratulations to Dr. Dennis Liotta for receiving an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Ottawa. Honorary doctorate degrees acknowledge the value of the abilities and experiences of the recipient and are awarded for significant contributions made by the recipient to the University of Ottawa, their profession, or society. Upon receiving the honorary degree, Dr. Dennis Liotta delivered a speech to the graduating class of the University.
“We can’t afford to sit and wait for others to change the world — we have to do it ourselves. The good news is that we all have the capacity to make the world a better place. All that is required is that we be proactive and persistent on an issue or cause that we’re passionate about. So, this is my challenge to all of you here today. Examine your own lives, identify a problem compatible with your skills and pursue it. If it’s something you’re passionate about and you’re willing to persevere, I guarantee you that you’ll find a way of doing it well. Remember, however, that this is marathon, not a sprint. So, don’t ever lose sight of your goals and your dreams.”
On Friday, April 13th, Andrew Steele successfully defended his thesis, “Natural Products Enabling Biological Discovery: Promysalin and Baulamycins”. Andrew’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. William Wuest, and members Dr. Huw Davies and Dr. Dennis Liotta.
Since moving with the Wuest Group to Emory, Andrew has published two papers, bringing his publication count to five. Andrew will be starting a post-doctoral position at Scripps in Florida where he will be working in the lab of Dr. Ben Shen.
On Wednesday, March 28th, Yao Jing successfully defended her thesis, “Structure-Activity Relationship and Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship of GluN2C/D Subunit Selective Antagonists of the N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor”. Yao’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. Dennis Liotta, and members Dr. Frank McDonald, Dr. Stephen Traynelis, and Dr. Emily Weinert.
Yao is currently searching for a job with an eye toward healthcare data science.
On Friday, March 23rd, Leann Teadt successfully defended her thesis, “Engineering the Stereospecificity and Regioselectivity of Flavoenzymes.” Leann’s thesis committee included her thesis advisor, Dr. Stefan Lutz, and members Dr. Dennis Liotta and Dr. Emily Weinert.
Leann is currently wrapping up a few final experiments in the lab while she looks for a job in industry.
When reflecting back on his graduate work with the Emory University Department of Chemistry, Kornelius Bankston remembers his scientific endeavors with the Lynn Group to be ambitious. “I had this grandiose idea to develop a therapeutic using amyloid fiber sequences that self-assemble into tubes,” says Kornelius. “That was my big vision statement.” This “think big” mentality and enthusiasm for progress led him to seek opportunities that would couple science with business. “I enjoy innovation and have been able to navigate towards roles that really help express that part of my interests.”
After graduation, Kornelius worked for a startup company led by Dr. Dennis Liotta, where he got the chance to truly experience the interface between science and business. From there, Kornelius took on a project manager role with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, where he worked to bring large scientific companies, such as Baxter Pharmaceuticals, to Georgia. During his time with the department, Kornelius refined his business acumen and developed invaluable professional networks, but he missed the scientific and technical aspects that motivated his interest in business to begin with. To bring the scientific context back to his business ventures, he opted to go to business school at Georgia Tech to study management of technology.
With his MS in biomolecular chemistry and his MBA in management of technology, Kornelius was equipped with the training to pursue his professional goals. He worked at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) as Program Manager for the Office of Translational Technologies. During his time in this position, he developed the first marketing campaign for MSM’s intellectual property at the 2012 BIO International Convention, developed and implemented protocols for licensing of the intellectual property, and negotiated the first industry sponsored clinical trials in the Division of Industry Collaborative Research.
Although his educational and professional history is full of diverse experiences, there are two clear themes that have steered him along his path: community engagement and scientific progress. He explains that he wants to 1) show that science can be fun and exciting and 2) improve the health of people through technology and therapeutics. “I enjoy innovation,” says Kornelius. “Hopefully, one day, I will get to lead a company around this whole concept of developing a therapeutic or technology, and taking it to the next level so people can actually utilize it on a broad spectrum.”
While Kornelius gathered the skills necessary to be successful in the realms of science, technology, and business through academic experiences and professional training, he lends credit to Emory for his problem-solving skills. “The graduate school experience helped my problem-solving ability across sectors, across disciplines. To look at a problem and say, ‘Okay, this is a problem’ and ‘How do I address this problem in a systematic way?’” This skill has proven to be indispensable in his current pursuit of a diagnostic for prostate cancer, where he is motivated to solve the problem of healthcare access for minority men in a way that is engaging and effective. Kornelius also emphasized the importance of networking during the process of transitioning into the workplace. He explains that, while it can sometimes feel a bit unnatural to initiate new relationships with people in the field, the ability to communicate effectively to people across a spectrum of familiarity with the science is vitally important. To connect with people in this way allows one to share ideas, learn from others, and potentially open doors to new and exciting opportunities.
Overall, Kornelius wants to encourage students to listen to their guiding internal voice when deciding a career path. “One of the things that I would like students to know is to not be afraid to challenge the norm,” says Kornelius. “Take all the advice and feedback people give you, but also be true to yourself and what you are really led to do.” He explains that he always had an innate interest in business, but the opportunities to engage with people and learn how business operates would have been missed had he not listened to his internal voice and challenged the idea at the time that academia was the best path. “Be true to what you are passionate about because I think it will always pull you back.”
On Friday, October 20th, Kyle Giesler successfully defended his thesis, “The Design, Synthesis, and Evaluation of Novel LipidProdrugs for Nucleoside Analogues.” Kyle’s thesis committee included his thesis advisor, Dr. Dennis Liotta, and members Dr. Khalid Salaita and Dr. Frank McDonald.
During his time at Emory, Kyle designed a novel prodrug strategy for tenofovir and other antiviral nucleosides that “unlocks” their therapeutic potential and significantly rivals well-accepted conjugation strategies used in the clinic. His research contributed to 8 publications and a patent application. In addition, Kyle initiated a collaboration between Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine, developed analogs for the treatment of chronic viral infections and cancer, and was awarded the Graduate Diversity Fellowship awarded to outstanding graduate students showing academic excellence and “exceptional promise as future leaders in their fields”.
Looking forward, Kyle plans to pursue a post-doctoral position at U.C Berkeley with Dr. Nirem Murthy where he intends to jump into bioengineering and develop delivery strategies for genome editing technology. After that, Kyle hopes to land an industrial position at the interface of chemistry and biology and be a part of a creative and team that operates at the forefront of human knowledge to design and discover novel therapeutics to change the course of human disease.