"Working with some urgency to tackle genuinely difficult biomedical problems is exciting, especially alongside so many diversely talented colleagues. The real prospect of seeing new ideas go through to improving patient outcomes greatly adds to the scientific satisfaction."
I joined Genentech in 1995 to help establish magnetic resonance imaging in the Neuroscience department. That MRI lab has grown into a full-service Biomedical Imaging department led by Robby Weimer that works on questions arising across the Research and Development organization. Prior to joining Genentech I was a biochemistry post-doc in Kevin Brindle's lab in Cambridge, England, investigating metabolite fluxes, metabolic regulation, and protein-protein interactions by applying mathematical modeling to data from NMR spectroscopy in vivo.
Twenty years has flown by while my lab has followed changes in technology – particularly the availability of positron emission tomography (PET) - that have enabled modern molecular imaging to answer perennial questions around the presence of specific molecules of interest in the intact organism. Some of these molecules are drug targets, some are biomarkers of disease or drug action, and some are the drugs themselves.
Having post-docs in the lab brings in wonderful new perspectives and skills and encourages discussions on new topics and methodologies that could help us in our mission. Post-docs aren’t part of our “day-job” drug development efforts, but the challenges of our core work give a perspective (and resources, like reagents and instruments) so that their projects can have a big impact. Currently we are busy working on quantifying antigen density from antibody PET scans and on improved methods for ligand discovery with phage display.
My focus is basically to apply the skills of my lab, especially PET imaging, to provide answers for colleagues looking to better understand disease biology or to move drug candidates through the pipeline. For example, we might want to quantify the antigen density or delivery of antibody in a particular tissue.
Projects are sometimes small, short “popcorn” studies using existing tools to satisfy a colleague working on an early research project, but we also have longer-term efforts spanning several years developing new tools for greater challenges to help therapeutic project teams make our clinical trials more effective. This makes for an interesting mix of continuing and fresh projects, and always brings up new collaborations and potential applications for the latest technologies.
The headline job focus of “imaging” encompasses not only the imaging itself but also the chemistry and radiochemistry behind it (led by Jan Marik), the development of model systems for validation, the use of cell-based and biochemical assays to QC the reagents we develop, and mathematical modeling. The lab is hands-on in all of these activities, which leads to other collaborations within the BMI department and with our colleagues in Clinical Imaging. We enjoy (and rely on) many fruitful collaborations around the company and with outside investigators at leading institutions around the world.