Truth be told, it was the scorpions that drove Mark Chandler back to a settled life in Texas, where he would become best known as the CEO of Luminex, whose bead technology is used in genomics and proteomics applications.
When he finished grad school with his doctorate in immunology, Chandler launched his own company to develop toxins into anti-cancer compounds. “Those toxins are largely derived from tropical plants,” he explains. “So for the first 15 years, I would go down to the jungles and spend weeks, sometimes months, looking for new toxins.” His favorite places were in western Brazil, eastern Ecuador, Malaysia, and Africa. “I really enjoyed that till I hit about 40, and then jungle living did not strike me as as fun as it had been before,” he says.
Now 49, Chandler’s original company, Inland Laboratories, is profitable and run by his brother. Chandler used the bead technology developed by Inland to find contaminants as the basis for founding Luminex in 1996. Luminex relied on scientist users to bring the technology to new frontiers in genomics and proteomics, unfamiliar territory within the company. “We did not have the level of expertise internally to develop the SNP assays that Glaxo has developed on our platform, for example,” Chandler says, or for the expression profiling the beads are also used for.
“About four years ago, it appeared to me the single best use of this technology would be in analyzing the serum of people with particular diseases,” Chandler says. So for the past three years, Luminex hosted a project to accomplish that, and recently Chandler resigned from Luminex so he could spin out the project and its 15 people into its own company, Rules-Based Medicine, of which he will be CEO.
The emphasis at RBM will be on studying diseased serum samples — so proteomics, and to a lesser degree expression profiling, will be key to the success of the company. Chandler expects that with sufficient funding, mainly in the form of existing partnerships with big pharmas and biotechs, RBM could have some noteworthy results by late next year. His goal is for any doctor or practitioner to be able to take a drop of blood, run it through RBM’s bead-based technology and diagnostics, and find out what’s wrong and how best to treat it. “In the next several years we should be seeing that,” he says.
Chandler does feel the occasional pang for his jungle life. “It was my weight-loss program,” he laughs. “You lose 20 pounds effortlessly.” But realistically, he has no plans to venture back out: “All it would take is one good scorpion sting, and I’d be ready to go home again.”
— Meredith Salisbury