Steve Schiltz and the Flavin brothers go back a long way. In 1993, when Schiltz was just starting his career in business, Michael Flavin and his brother John hired him to handle business development for MediChem, then a 30-employee medicinal chemistry services company that Flavin had launched in the mid ’80s.
“It was an opportunity to make a lot of contacts,” says Schiltz of his work with MediChem early in his career. “Initially I would speak to [big pharma] medicinal chemists, to tell them how MediChem could help them accelerate their programs.”
Now Schiltz and the Flavins have a new game in town. After selling MediChem to DeCode Genetics in January of 2002, Flavin Ventures last November launched Shamrock Structures, an early stage provider of structural biology services to pharmaceutical companies. In February, after taking leave of DeCode’s new subsidiary MediChem to avoid having to relocate to Europe, Schiltz, a native of St. Charles, Ill., took over as CEO of Shamrock Structures.
Schiltz’s vision for Woodridge, Ill.-based Shamrock is to create a company with expertise in protein crystallography — but without a drug development arm. Having secured an agreement with Argonne National Laboratories to access time on that facility’s synchrotron light source, and with the February hire of Cheryl Janson, a protein crystallographer formerly with GlaxoSmithKline, Schiltz says Shamrock will be more than qualified to provide services to aid pharmas with structure-based drug design. And by forswearing any drug development programs of its own, Shamrock should appeal to pharmas wary of potential conflicts of interest.
“We want to help [pharmas] decrease their time from identifying a protein target to structure-based drug design,” Schiltz says. “And we’ll be doing so in a format attractive to pharma and biotech clients. We have no existing competing programs; it’ll be pure service,” he adds. “I believe that’s unique.”
Will Shamrock’s hands-off approach to IP be enough to convince pharma to outsource their protein crystallography? The company has yet to announce any deals publicly, but Schiltz admits that he’s starting small: Schiltz and Janson are two of the company’s three total employees. “Our business plan isn’t necessarily to experience phenomenal growth overnight,” Schiltz says. “We want to have high scientific integrity, and deliver the greatest possible service to our clients.”
— John S. MacNeil