Interview with Sebastien Burel
Sebastien Burel, PhD
Director Nonclinical Development
How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
Mostly by accident. Until joining Ionis as a Post-Doc, I had not heard much about antisense oligonucleotides. I obtained my PhD from the University of Manchester (UK) before moving to the US to do a post-doc in Dr. Dong-Er Zhang at TSRI in La Jolla. At TSRI, I was using retroviral approaches to develop mouse models of leukemia. The skills I learned in Dr. Zhang’s lab allowed for a natural transition into the biotech industry setting. The move to industry was prompted by my desire to apply my skills in an environment where I could see my contributions directly impacting and improving patients’ lives. My transition into industry started with a post-doctoral position in toxicology department at Ionis Pharmaceuticals. Learning more about the concept of how antisense oligonucleotide therapeutics can now address targets for previously “undruggable” diseases made joining to Ionis an exciting career choice for me.
Who were your early mentors?
Dr Clare Heyworth was my PhD advisor at the Paterson Institute in Manchester. She was very kind and nurturing, and taught me a lot about scientific rigor.
Dr Art Levin, my post-doctoral mentor at Ionis Pharmaceuticals, incredibly knowledgeable about oligonucleotides, not to mention simply a nice person. It was a privilege to get started in this field under his guidance. I consider myself to be very fortunate to be a part of the corporate culture at Ionis, which allows me to have great mentors like Dr. Levin and my current mentor, Dr. Scott Henry.
How did you become involved in OTS?
OTS is the meeting to be at if you want to learn about new and exciting developments in the oligo field.
Why do you continue to support the OTS?
OTS is the best forum to disseminate novel ideas and interact with colleagues. The ideas fostered with the help of OTS have direct impact on developing the area of oligonucleotide therapeutics and working to develop safe and efficacious drugs towards the clinic.
What is special about the type of research/work you’ve done?
I’ve been very fortunate to join an organization that values and invests in mechanistic understanding of the science behind our therapies. Ionis wants to understand the intricacies of (antisense) oligonucleotides in order to develop safer and more efficacious therapies. The best part of my job is to be able to work with a wonderful group of Ionis fellows, and our studies have led to some contributions that apply to the antisense platform while also helping to move forward some exciting new therapies.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I have a wonderful wife and equally wonderful 4-year-old daughter. We like to use our spare time to travel the world. We recently came back from a diving trip to Raja Ampat in Indonesia where our daughter went snorkeling with sharks and turtles for the first time. She had a blast.
Any other fun facts/tidbits you’d like us to know?
I’m a News junky, Recently I got Nitrox certified to spend more time taking pictures while diving with Manta Rays.