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Accidental NMR Expert Lands at GeneFormatics

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Peter Domaille was trained in spectroscopy when he began his career at DuPont, though he had never done magnetic resonance. “But I was almost thrust into a position there because I understood angular momentum,” he says.

Since then, his work — at DuPont and now as director of structural biology at GeneFormatics — has centered on the technology. “In the late ’80s it became very clear that the area of chemistry that I was working in, which was catalysis, was dying. An emerging area was structure biology,” says Domaille. He then made his move, first from a technology base and then to how NMR might be used in drug discovery.

At GeneFormatics, he sees his role as integrating the computational side with the experimental side and having the ability to find “high-value target structures of both proteins in their uncomplex state and with ligands bound as potential drug leads,” he says.

Domaille wants to combine NMR with x-ray crystallography when searching for drug leads, saying that compounds that bind tightly to proteins are more suited for x-ray crystallography and compounds that bind weakly are more suited for NMR. “You need to choose the best available weapon to solve the structures, and they are very complimentary,” he says.

The move from big pharma to biotech intrigued Domaille, as did the depth of the structural biology and the computational focus at GeneFormatics. “Computation will always work. Whether it’s right or not needs to be determined by experiment,” he says. “Blending of those two things together is what sets us apart from other people and what interested me.”

— Amanda Urban

 

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