You’ve heard of the lure of the public or private sectors. But for David Danley, the draw of genomics lay in “the civilian sector.”
A retired Army colonel and a biologist by training, Danley, 57, took a new position last month as director of the homeland security and defense programs at CombiMatrix, a subsidiary of Acacia Research.
It’s not exactly common for companies in this industry — CombiMatrix, for instance, makes custom biochips to identify genes, proteins, and genetic mutations — to have a homeland security department. But CombiMatrix has been developing its biochips with an eye toward defense since 1999, when it received the first of two DOD grants to tweak its technology for applications such as detecting biological agents, and hopes this year to snare even more than its $3.6 million appropriation from the 2002 defense budget.
Danley, who was previously project manager of DOD’s Chemical Biological Medical Systems and Joint Vaccine Acquisition Program and commander of the US Army Center for Environmental Health Research, plans to usher the CombiMatrix technology right into DOD and the new Department of Homeland Security. “Clearly my connections in the government are opportunities for CombiMatrix to present its ideas,” Danley says. “It’s understanding what the user wants … and packaging our technology to meet those requirements. That’s really what I’m bringing to the table.”
Danley will be looking at CombiMatrix’s entire line of research products to figure out what might best suit government needs. The company’s work in using siRNA molecules to treat diseases — early studies target SARS, HIV, West Nile virus, smallpox, and influenza, among others — is still in nascent stages of research, Danley says. The biochip, on the other hand, is quite advanced and “has tremendous applications in the detection side and the diagnostic side,” he says.
Getting into government work won’t sideline the technology — the basic chips will be commercially available. But chips made in collaboration with the DOD using microbe-specific DNA information, for instance, likely won’t be sold to other customers. “The government has tightly held information about how to detect microorganisms,” Danley says. “They really don’t want that information to become available.”
— Fingerprints by Meredith Salisbury