Benjamin G. Davis
Researchers have long known that proteins- pivotal players in everything from embryonic development to Alzheimer’s disease- often have sugars attached to them. But understanding precisely how those sugars influence the proteins’ functions was exceedingly difficult until the arrival of novel chemical reactions devised by University of Toronto postdoc Benjamin Davis. The reactions enabled Davis to add or substitute sugars on proteins with Lego-like ease- solving a problem that had stymied researchers for decades. Manipulating sugars could make it easier not only to systematically study the basic biology of proteins, but also to engineer them as drugs. Indeed, Davis is exploiting his techniques to create a drug delivery system in which different sugars direct protein-based drugs to target cells or organs. In November 2002, Davis who is now a lecturer at the University of Oxford, cofounded Glycoform in England to commercialize this and other work; within a week he obtained $2 million in venture funding. The company is now conducting trials of the drug delivery system and developing new sugar attachment techniques.