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Spencer Symposium


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Dr. Wei Pin Teh

Building a Path Towards Drug Discovery through Synthetic Organic Chemistry

Synthetic organic chemistry has consistently stood as a primary pillar in drug discovery. From small molecule drugs to macromolecular biologics, the foundational principles of organic chemistry have continuously driven innovation in new therapeutic modalities. Recently, proximity-induced post-translational modifications (PTMs) using heterobifunctional molecules have emerged as a novel therapeutic approach, hijacking classes of functional protein to modify the fate of drug targets. In this presentation, Wei Pin will share his journey, beginning with a serendipitous discovery during his graduate studies that led to his thesis, and his subsequent deep dive into heterobifunctional molecules at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

Born and raised in Malaysia, Wei Pin moved to Florida in 2012 to pursue his undergraduate studies at Florida Southern College. He then moved to the pacific northwest after graduating with his BS in Chemistry in 2015, where he then received his PhD in Chemistry from University of Washington-Seattle, focusing on synthetic organic methodology with Prof. Forrest Michael. Wei Pin is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Buhrlage lab at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Medical School in Boston. His current research focuses on developing bivalent compounds targeting deubiquitinating enzymes(DUB) and chemical tools to understand the role of DUBs in biological systems.

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M. Sc. Elizabeth Garcia

Finding a Place in Science: a Career Odyssey

Elizabeth earned her Master of Science in Chemistry and began her career as a junior scientist at a nanotechnology startup, where she focused on the surface chemistry of zirconium and hafnium nanocrystals and their applications in LED, OLED, and optical sensors. With her expertise in chemistry and analytical techniques, she assumed the role of quality control lead for her department. She then ventured into education as a long-term substitute teacher, teaching high school students the fundamentals of chemistry. Currently, as a Biosciences Account Manager, Elizabeth engages with innovative life scientists, facilitating and accelerating their research endeavors.

Elizabeth Garcia Cardona (FSC - Class of ’06) is a Biosciences account manager at Thermo Fisher Scientific. Originally from Medellin, Colombia, her path has led her through Florida, New Hampshire, and Maryland. She currently resides in Centreville, Virginia with her two beautiful boys and her incredibly supportive partner.

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Jack Trimble

Forensic Pollen Identification using LC-MS based Lipid Profiling

Forensic palynology is the study of pollen and spores to solve civil and criminal cases. In practice, pollen is used as a proxy to connect individuals or objects to the scene of the crime. While forensic palynology has seen extensive use in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K., its use in the U.S. has been scarce. This is mainly due to shortcomings of traditional palynological techniques, which rely on transmission light and scanning electron microscopy. The techniques are laborious, require high-user expertise in the field of palynology, and are generally chemically destructive. Thus, the objective of this work aims to alleviate these issues through the development of a high-throughput, chemical analysis of pollen. Using liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS), extracted pollen coat lipids are annotated and a lipid profile is generated. This profile is unique to each species, allowing for pollen identification. The proposed technique is non-destructive, supporting the complementary physical (microscopy) and chemical (lipid profiling) analysis of pollen. This approach simplifies pollen grain identification and increases the accessibility of forensic palynology to crime laboratories.

Jack Trimble is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Central Florida. He earned his B.S. in Chemistry from Florida Southern College in 2021, where he graduated with honors. Shortly after, he joined the Forensic Spectroscopy Group at the National Center for Forensic Science under the guidance of Dr. Matthieu Baudelet. Since then, he has worked to improve forensic palynology as a viable technique in the modern crime lab.

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Dr. Esther Alegria

Therapeutics Drug Development Innovation and Challenges

Therapeutic drug development is an ever evolving and complex process that aims to discover and develop new or improved treatments for human diseases and conditions. Advancement involves a combination of innovative approaches and overcoming numerous challenges. Scientific innovation in the last several decades has brought step changes in therapeutics drug discovery that has impacted patients all over the world.  One of the key innovations in drug development is the use of advanced technologies and techniques to identify potential drug targets and design novel compounds. Another significant innovation is the emergence of personalized medicine, which aims to develop treatments that are tailored to an individual's unique characteristics, such as their genetic makeup or biomarkers. However, drug development also faces various challenges. One of the major hurdles is the high failure rate in clinical trials. Many promising drug candidates do not demonstrate the desired efficacy or safety profiles during clinical testing, leading to the termination of their development. This can be due to issues such as inadequate preclinical models, patient heterogeneity, or unforeseen side effects. Another challenge is the increasing cost and time required for drug development. It can take over a decade and cost billions of dollars to bring a new drug to market. Despite these challenges, ongoing advancements in technology, collaborations between academia and industry, and regulatory reforms are driving advancements in this complex process of therapeutic drug development. These efforts aim to promote innovation and overcome obstacles to bring safe and effective treatments to patients in a more efficient and timely manner.

Dr. Esther Alegria is a BioPharma strategic global leader with over 25 years of experience and a strong record of successes building organizations and operations. Esther has depth experience in drug development, manufacturing operations, and building effective/productive organizations (local and Global) and leaders. She was directly involved in successful advancements of several vaccines / therapeutic drugs development from R&D thru commercialization.

She became an entrepreneur in life sciences after co-founding APIE Therapeutics, pioneering microvascular repair & regeneration, in 2020, in the Research Triangle Park in NC where she has built a cohort of scientists and entrepreneurs to lead in the space of fibrotic and related chronic diseases. Esther is currently the Chief Innovation Officer, after holding the CEO position for over three years, and a member of the Board of Directors. She led the Seed funding raise to bring first clinical asset to PRE-IND stage. Prior to APIE Therapeutics she was the Senior Vice President (SVP) of Global Manufacturing at Biogen where she was responsible for the company’s footprint strategy and successful clinical and commercial manufacturing operations in Denmark, Massachusetts, and North Carolina.

Esther is a member of the publicly held Board of Director for Avid Bio, an antibody/protein, and gene therapy manufacturer, and a member of the Governance and Audit Committees. She also is a member of the publicly held Board of Directors for Steris, a leading global provider of products and services that support patient care with an emphasis on infection prevention and member of the Governance and Compliance & Technology Committees. Esther is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust where she focuses on economic growth and technology advancements and chairs the Governance Committee.

Esther has lent her expertise to key industry, education and advocacy groups including serving on the Advisory Board for NC Biosciences Organization, Global Manufacturing BioPhorum Organization, Biotechnology Training and Education Center at NC State University, and the American Chamber of Commerce of Copenhagen-Denmark. She has served on non-profit organizations such as Biogen Foundation and Shepherd Care Medical Clinic, where she became the Chairperson in both instances, supporting community STEM efforts and patients in need of health care, respectively.

Esther holds a Ph.D in Chemistry from the Univ. of Hawaii and a Post-Doc in Biochemistry from Univ of Virginia as well as an Executive Business Management certification from Harvard Business School. Business NC Magazine selected Esther in 2009 as Woman Extraordinaire of the Year for being an influential leader within her company and for her impact on its economic success and forward-thinking strategies.

Esther collective experiences brings expertise in global drug development, manufacturing operations, regulatory strategies, in-licensing/out-licensing/M&A and building a winning culture of innovation and strategic growth.