Stephen Naylor had a comfy position as a tenured professor at the Mayo Clinic when he decided that he needed a new challenge and would go into the private sector to find one. Turns out it was getting to the private sector that was the challenge. It was 1995 when Naylor first looked to leave academia and 2001 when he managed to pull it off.
Naylor, recently named CTO of Beyond Genomics, spent 20 years as an academic, the last 10 of them at the Mayo Clinic. In 1995 he sought out a run in the biotech field but decided it was the wrong time. “Proteomics was just beginning to be a twinkle in people’s eyes,” he recalls. He also needed to learn about the business world, so he stayed at Mayo and spent a few years doing consulting on the side, “really immersing myself in that culture and that business.” In 1998, he picked up the search again and even interviewed with several proteomics companies — and came away with a reinforced feeling that it still wasn’t time to venture out into the inchoate market. Instead, he founded Mayo’s Biomedical Mass Spectrometry and Functional Proteomics Facility.
Finally, last year, he got a call from some folks at Beyond Genomics, which had just gotten started. “I knew systems biology,” Naylor says. “But I didn’t think there was a business in it.” He laughs. “Well, lo and behold, I was completely wrong. It was an obvious fit.” So Stephen Naylor at last packed his bags and headed for the private sector.
His role at Beyond Genomics is half-practical, half-wishful. First, he has to take the company’s technology ideas and get them up and running. “It’s all well and good sitting around, talking over a beer, and drawing on napkins. But now you’ve got to put that into effect.”
Naylor relies on his background in mass spectrometry, crystallography, and bioinformatics for this. On the dreamer side, he’s in charge of keeping an eye on emerging technologies to keep the company on the cutting edge.
Naylor’s sigh-of-relief transition to Beyond Genomics reminds him how he felt when he first went to the Mayo Clinic. He’d been working at the UK’s Medical Research Council in a “shoebox” office when he got the recruitment call from Mayo with an outline of the job’s terms. “It was so outrageous that I thought this was a friend of mine playing a joke,” he recalls.
But the clinic didn’t live up to Naylor’s hopes for it. “If it was properly organized, [Mayo] could become just a phenomenal systems biology entity,” he says of its technologies and expertise. “Part of what I was trying to do was set up some kind of infrastructure … and I failed miserably. You can only bang your head against a wall for the 14 or 15 thousandth time before you go, ‘You know, this is just giving me a headache.’”