Elaine Pirie, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Metabolic Drug Discovery, Ionis
What do sword fighting, fruit fly experiments and a fascination with protein aggregation in the brain have in common? They’re all activities that have consumed Dr. Elaine Pirie. A fencing enthusiast at young age, the St. Paul, Minnesota native started her scientific journey researching retinal degeneration in drosophila at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her desire to discover the cause of protein aggregation in ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases and an interest in genetics inspired her graduate and pos-graduate work, including three years as a research assistant in the lab of Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Bruce Beutler. At Ionis, Elaine’s research is focused on understanding the activity of GLP-1 conjugated antisense oligonucleotides in the beta cells of the pancreas. The goal: identifying and advancing new targets for Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
So, what is “innovation” to Dr. Elaine Pirie?
“It’s when we turn a problem to the side and explore it from a completely different angle. The solutions that come from looking at it in a different way, that’s innovation.”
Ian Huggins, Ph.D., Assistant Director, Medicinal Chemistry, Ionis
Starting with his idyllic “free range” childhood exploring nature in northern Utah, Ian has maintained an enduring curiosity about the world. At one point, he even imagined himself as a wildlife biologist tracking wolves in Yellowstone with a camera and notepad. As an undergrad he was fortunate to have mentors who cultivated his love of scientific discovery, which ultimately led him to a career in molecular biology research. His goal: helping to alleviate the suffering caused by disease. Today, he’s doing just that as a member of Ionis’ Medicinal Chemistry department. As part of the Receptor Biology team, Ian works to discover, design and produce ligands, including antibodies and peptides for Ionis’ advanced ligand conjugated antisense, or LICA, technology.
So, what is “innovation” to Dr. Ian Huggins?
“Knowing where we need to be, knowing that we’re not there yet, and finding a way to build a bridge that gets us there.”
Crystal Zhao, Ph.D., Associate Director, Ion-Edit Core Research, Ionis Pharmaceuticals
From Nanjing, China to Woods Hole, Massachusetts to the sunny shores of La Jolla, California, and many points in between, Dr. Zhao’s journey to innovation has been full of discovery. With initial aspirations of becoming a marine biologist, she was ultimately attracted to Ionis because “I was amazed at how much basic research is done” at the company. Also driving her decision was a desire to apply her research to drug discovery that could eventually benefit patients. Now, she’s spearheading core research for an initiative intended to marry Ionis’ pioneering antisense technology with the emerging field of gene editing.
So, what is “innovation” to Dr. Crystal Zhao?
“It’s a mentality. It’s about our curiosity…It’s about the courage to test and go beyond what we know today.”