How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
It was serendipity. I was hired 21 years back as an organic chemist at Ibis Therapeutics, a division of Isis Pharmaceuticals, to target structured RNA with small molecules. After about three years, Ibis changed course to advance its pathogen diagnostic platform, and I was offered a chance to work on synthesis of nucleosides and related compounds for antisense applications at Isis. That was my start in the field of antisense therapeutics.
Who were your early mentors?
An amazing thing about Ionis (formerly Isis) is that there is no shortage of very accomplished role-models and mentors. I want to acknowledge Eric Swayze, my mentor and supervisor at Ionis for 21 years, for many lessons in life, science, and leadership. I also want to thank Bal Bhat, who helped me when I made the transition from small molecules to antisense medicinal chemistry. And Stan Crooke and Brett Monia, who work tirelessly to embed the Ionis core principles of dreaming big and patient-centric innovation into every Ionis employee.
How did you become involved in OTS?
I attended my first OTS meeting in Boston in 2012, the year when the meeting was disrupted by Hurricane Sandy. I was honored to join the Scientific Advisory Council of OTS in 2015, where I have had the privilege to work alongside many inspiring leaders in the field of nucleic acid therapeutics.
Why do you continue to support the society?
OTS plays a central role in the field of oligo therapeutics. As the field continues to grow and attract more scientists, physicians, and patients, OTS serves as a central repository of knowledge and expertise to help guide the new entrants. OTS also remains true to its original mission of fostering transparency and cooperation between industry and academia. I still recall Art Krieg calling out individuals after their talks at the OTS for not sharing details about their oligo designs. It is extremely important that we share our results with the broader scientific community so that we can learn from each other, and OTS has and will continue to play an important role to enable exchange of ideas and develop new leaders in the field of oligo therapeutics.
What is special about the type of research/work you have done?
I started my graduate career as a synthetic organic chemist developing new methodologies to synthesize complex natural products. I had the opportunity to learn about an entirely new field of oligonucleotide therapeutics at Ionis. During my two decades at Ionis, I synthesized complex nucleosides, worked on novel oligonucleotide designs to modulate potency and therapeutic index, enzymology, structural biology, drug discovery, targeted delivery and even receptor biology. It has been an amazing journey, and I am inspired and humbled to work alongside so many talented and dedicated individuals who created a new platform for drug discovery to help patients in need.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I generally spend free time with my wife, teenage daughter, and son. We love going on family vacations and learning about new countries and cultures. My wife and I also like visiting wineries and brewpubs that our kids find extremely boring.
Any other fun facts/tidbits you would like us to know!
I grew up in Mumbai, India and moved to the US when I was 21 to pursue a PhD in organic chemistry at The Ohio State University. I am a big fan of the Buckeye football team and am excited to have published the 100th peer-reviewed manuscript from my work at Ionis in 2021. Now after 21 incredible years at Ibis/Isis/Ionis, I am excited to start a new chapter in my career as SVP of Research at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals. I am looking forward to working with the amazing team at Alnylam and to making new friends in Boston.