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Unexpected Manager Wilson Moves to Syrrx

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For someone who first thought that proteins were simply “pretty,” Keith Wilson has come a long way.

The newly appointed vice president of technology at Syrrx in San Diego, Wilson’s role is to take the company’s high-throughput gene-to-protein structure platform and integrate it with drug discovery.

Before joining Syrrx, 40-year-old Wilson was co-project leader of Vertex Pharmaceuticals’ $800 million collaboration with Novartis to discover, develop, and commercialize small molecule drugs directed at targets in the kinase protein family.

His managerial position sneaked up on him over time. “I’m still very much attached to research,” Wilson says. “There wasn’t a conscious decision to jump from research to management.”

He joined Vertex as one of only two crystallographers in 1992, and as the group grew, so did his responsibilities and management duties. “It turned out that I was halfway decent at managing people and projects, so that became an increasing part of my job,” he says.

Wilson originally saw his niche in physics, and attributes his transfer of loyalties to serendipity. He found an opening when a professor from the University of Oregon gave a presentation on crystallography. “I thought the proteins were really pretty,” Wilson recalls with a laugh. “When Brian [Matthews] told me about Oregon and how beautiful it was, I thought, cool. Everything came together.”

Crystallography led to structure-based design and first-hand knowledge that structural data was valuable in drug research and development. He was soon sold on the value of high-throughput structural biology.

“It’s a real way to use physics,” he says. “And of course there’s the possibility that we could create a drug that could potentially save someone’s life some day.”

— Jasmin Chua