If you talk to Mansoor Mohammed, it’s all but impossible to avoid hearing how delighted he is to be living in Canada, where he spent his childhood and obtained his doctorate. Like many Canadian scientists who have joined the genomics community in the last several years, Mohammed left after earning his degree and headed to the US for a postdoc position. Years later, he finally got the chance to pack up his family and head back north — and he jumped on it.
Mohammed returned to the Toronto region to serve as ambassador of sciences to the Canadian government. While there, he got an offer from CombiMatrix Molecular Diagnostics to be the company’s CSO. One tempting aspect: he could take the post and remain in Canada.
As CSO of the diagnostics company, Mohammed will help take the oligo platform developed by parent CombiMatrix and make it useful in a clinical diagnostic setting. The major advantage he sees in this platform compared with competitor technology, he says, stems from “a somewhat still vague ruling from the FDA that microarrays will be considered for use clinically if they fall under the homebrew category” — that is, a clinical diagnostic firm can sell microarray tests that scientists designed in-house without needing FDA approval, but anything that they didn’t make themselves must receive the agency’s approval to be sold as a test. Because of traits unique to the CombiMatrix platform, Mohammed says, a clinical lab can buy it and still have it be considered homebrew. “It’s a unique niche as a clinical lab being able to offer oligo arrays clinically under the homebrew clause,” he says. “We will be the only diagnostic company able to offer a whole sequence and series of arrays … under the homebrew clause. That vision is what I bought into.”
Mohammed made his name in the array field when he was part of the team at Spectral Genomics designing the first commercial BAC array for comparative genomic hybridization. He began his training as a clinical cytogeneticist during a postdoc at the University of California, Los Angeles; after that, he accepted another postdoc position at Baylor College of Medicine. That post came with a side task of helping launch Spectral Genomics, where Mohammed served as R&D director when the firm took off and he joined full-time.
After Spectral Genomics, Mohammed headed to Quest Diagnostics as director of advanced technology. He left that position when the Canadian government recruited him to return to that country. In particular, he says, he was impressed by the scientific facilities and gathering of accomplished researchers he found in Toronto. “It blew me away,” he says, “and clearly encouraged me to come back.”
— Meredith Salisbury