Tom Brown Ph.D.
Professor of Nucleic Acid Chemistry University of Oxford,
Founder of ATDBio Ltd (and now Chief consultant).
How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?
All my family members were manual workers, and I was the first to go to University. I chose to study Chemistry because I was told by my Science teacher that it had good job prospects. I did not know any better, but it turned out to be good advice. Soon after starting my Chemistry Degree, I became fascinated by DNA because of how it stores genetic information in a beautifully simple but remarkable way. I was fortunate to become a PhD student in the research group of Professor Gordon Shaw at Bradford University, a great character, and a well-known nucleic acid chemist. My interest in nucleic acids grew after reading James Watson’s book “The double helix” and “The eighth day of creation” by Horace Freeland Judson.
Who were your early mentors?
I was a postdoc in Professor Olga Kennard’s group at Cambridge University. We determined X-ray crystal structures of DNA duplexes containing different kinds of mismatches base pairs. It was a fruitful period. I remember an inspiring lecture in Cambridge by Fred Sanger, and years later a rather unusual but highly entertaining lecture by Cary Mullis on the development of PCR. These things stick in your mind.
How did you become involved in OTS?
To be honest, I can’t remember when I first joined. (OTS records show join date 11/30/2014)
Why do you continue to support the society?
The oligonucleotide therapeutics field has grown substantially in recent years due to the emergence of several clinical applications. The society provides an essential forum for academic and industrial scientists working in the field. The work of OTS members is so important!
What is special about the type of research/work you have done?
I am particularly pleased by the real word applications of my research, particularly in diagnostics. I have also started three successful companies in the nucleic acid field. I love tackling problems in oligonucleotide chemistry and helping biologists to develop clinical applications by offering new chemical solutions. In the past year we have been heavily involved in COVID-19 diagnostics and that has been highly satisfying. The scientists at ATDBio and the students and postdocs in my research group have done amazing work throughout the pandemic, even though I have not had nearly as much personal contact with them as I would in normal times (maybe telling me something)!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to watch sports; I enjoy walking around Oxford and listening to Audio books. Time with my family is top of my list of priorities.
Any other fun facts/tidbits you would like us to know!
In terms of hobbies, I have a large garden which I enjoy pottering in. I like classic cars; it takes me back to my youth when I bought my first car for $30. I learned car maintenance and repair out of necessity, and that gave me generic skills that are still valuable in the lab. I have owned two E-type Jaguars, and now I have two Porsches, a classic 911 and a Taycan.