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McDonald to Teach New Tricks at SBI

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Structural Bioinformatics has taken a big step toward its goal of getting to discovery: the firm hired Ian McDonald, Merck’s former senior director of chemistry, as vice president of drug discovery.

The position suits McDonald. “I’ve been on both sides of the fence,” he says, citing 16 years of experience in big pharma and eight years in biotech. His experience in narrowing drug leads and in converting them to clinical candidates could be just what the SBI team needs. “They’re all really good scientists,” McDonald says of his department, “but with few exceptions they haven’t had experience in drug discovery.”

That’s no surprise for a firm that made its name in informatics. Thanks to SBI’s computational tools, the company has a number of leads, but McDonald will have some steering to do. “To build real value into these discoveries,” he says, the company must “take these fairly weak leads and get them down to the much more potent drug leads.”

McDonald says SBI’s computer background will only aid his cause. “We’re going to do a lot of the structural optimization with the help of computers. That generally hasn’t been done anywhere else.”

— Meredith Salisbury