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Saul Martinez Montero, PhD,
Director, Oligonucleotide Chemistry at Aligos Therapeutics
How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
My graduate studies focused on nucleoside synthesis and on the applications of nucleosides as antiviral agents. In 2012, towards the end of my PhD, I decided to do a 4-months internship at Prof. Masad Damha’s group at McGill University in Montreal, to learn how I could use modified nucleosides to design and build therapeutic oligonucleotides. I found this topic so exciting and in line with my interests that soon after finishing my PhD I came back to McGill as a postdoc.
Who were your early mentors?
I have been lucky to have great mentors throughout my career. During my graduate studies in Spain, Profs. Miguel Ferrero, Susana Fernandez, and Dr. Yogesh Sanghvi introduced me to the world of research and successfully guided me through my PhD. During my postdoc, Prof. Masad Damha exposed me to many different topics within the oligonucleotide’s therapeutics field (chemical modification, delivery, structure, etc.), and I am very grateful for all that I learned in his group. My first manager in the industry was Dr. Sergei Gryaznov, a great scientist who made me well aware that an oligonucleotide chemist should be well-rounded in all other aspects of the discovery process. Also, in the early years of transitioning from academia to industry, my former colleague Dr. Pathi Pandarinathan provided me with critical guidance to succeed in pharma and biotech environments. At Aligos Therapeutics, I have been very lucky to learn from Dr. Leonid Beigelman, a great and committed scientist, entrepreneur, and one of the pioneers in this field.
How did you become involved in OTS?
I attended my first OTS conference in 2014 (San Diego) in the middle of my postdoctoral studies. Since then, I try not to miss a single OTS conference.
Why do you continue to support the society?
I believe OTS is a great blend of the work performed in both industry and academia. The society keeps very well aware of the emerging RNA technologies. I remember when in 2014 the modalities where mostly ASO and siRNA. Recently other modalities have been added: gene editing, RNA editing, mRNA, etc. The RNA field is growing, and OTS grows with it. OTS is also a way to meet former colleagues and friends at the annual conferences. I also find the webinars very educational and interesting.
What is special about the type of research/work you have done?
Chemical modification has proven essential for the therapeutic success of every single oligonucleotide modality. I work to develop novel chemical constructs to further improve the drug-like properties of ASO, siRNAs, etc, resulting in improved potency and/or safety. The ultimate goal is to see novel chemistries progressing into clinical development.
What do you like to do in your free time?
As a San Francisco Bay Area resident, I enjoy hiking on the endless number of trails here under the giant Redwoods.
Other Fun facts/tidbits
As a Spaniard, I am a big fan of La Liga! Due to the nine-hour time difference, I need to wake up very early in the morning on weekends so that I will not miss the games Live, but I do it happily!