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MIT Technology Review

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  • Nathaniel David

    Age:
    33

    Leave it to a structural biologist who thought about becoming a pastry chef to write an industrial-scale recipe for accelerating drug discovery. In 1999,with a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, Nathaniel David cofounded Syrrx, the world’s first automated factory devoted to analyzing proteins and their interactions with drugs using structural biology. The three-dimensional shape of a protein determines how well a particular drug will bind to it, but the structures of many critical human proteins remain unexplored. It can take researchers in a traditional lab months to produce,purify and crystallize a single protein and confirm its shape. Under David, San Diego-based Syrrx adapted robot arms from auto- motive assembly lines to crystallize proteins with far greater speed: the company can reveal 11 to 15 structures a month. Some scientists doubted the feasibility of automating an intricate lab process but David—who claims his best quality as an innovator is stubbornness—prevailed. Assole employee for 16 months, he raised $25 million. Syrrx now has 131 employees, $100 million in capital and has analyzed 90 potential drug targets for three pharmaceutical makers.