IAS Newsletter - May 2014 - page 8-9

Paul Schimmel
on Research, Entreoreneurship and Work-Life Balance
IAS Chatroom
IAS Chatroom
Prof Paul Schimmel is the Ernest
and Jean Hahn Professor of
Molecular Biology and Chemistry
in The Scipps Research Institute.
His major research activities have
concentrated on the decoding of
genetic information, with
emphasis on the rules of the
universal genetic code which are
established through
aminoacylation reactions
catalyzed by a group of enzymes
known as aminoacyl tRNA
synthetases. Prof Schimmel joined
IAS since 2008 and he is currently
an IAS Visiting Professor.
Prof Schimmel, the IAS HKUST –
Scripps R&D Laboratory was established at HKUST in
almost six years ago with the Hong Kong government’s
support through the Innovation and Technology Fund.
Could you share with us the recent progress of your
team here?
The research team here in HKUST is mostly focused on
studying new molecules that could treat inflammatory
muscle conditions. These conditions are usually
progressive and eventually fatal. By the research works,
the team has been able to finalize more than 150
therapeutical patent applications of new
compositions/proteins whose existence was not known
before and resistibly proved that the new compositions
can be used in many human therapeutical settings.
Recently, the team has tested one of these
compositions in a healthy human volunteer in Europe.
Given the small research group consisting of 5
graduates from HKUST, this is definitely a remarkable
You are one of the founding members of IAS and you
have witnessed the development of IAS throughout the
years. How would you describe the development of
IAS? What are the changes over the years from your
The IAS started as an ‘idea’ under the leadership of Prof
Paul Chu and his deputy Prof Angelina Yee. To
introduce IAS to the University community and the
global community, large numbers of lectures, by
outstanding and well-known scientists, were organized.
The vision was, first, to build a large structure devoted
to the IAS in a prominent location; and second, to
recruit an excellent and well-known scientist as leader.
With the new building and the recruitment of Prof Henry
Tye, these objectives have been met, and even
exceeded. Henry has gone on to recruit top people
into the IAS, and continues to grow the Institute with
quality people.
Why would you choose HKUST/Hong Kong as one of
your research bases in Asia? Could you enlighten us on
the differences in doing research/business in Hong
Kong and elsewhere?
I have long loved Asia and its people. Starting in my
days as a young faculty member at Massachusetts
Institute of Technology (MIT), I had many students from
Asia. Two of my earliest were young women from Hong
Kong. Later, at The Scripps, my laboratory became
heavily ‘Asianized’, especially with Mainland Chinese.
As the world expanded and Asia grew, I decided that I
wanted to put a ‘foot in Asia’ to do research, and
thereby contribute and participate in the shift of the
world’s center from the West to Asia.
Hong Kong is always a place where most westerners
feel easy to adapt to. The major reason that I chose
HKUST was that HKUST is a young university with a
large pool of western-educated faculty and young
scientists and it is very much like MIT. I never regretted
this choice.
You are a professor while at the same time an
entrepreneur. The two communities are quite different
in terms of values and the way of thinking. You have
mentioned in one of your dialogues with Prof Mingjie
Zhang back in 2009 that this was one of the challenges
you faced in commercializing the technology
discovered in your research. Is this still a challenge for
you at the moment? How do you overcome it?
Yes, this is still a challenge but the model used at MIT
and the Scripps works well so far.
At MIT and at The Scripps, we are able to forward
integrate our discoveries for applications to human
health. This effort requires us to be able to keep the
academic atmosphere open and free, while at the same
time to generate intellectual property that is
out-licensed. So, we strongly support the open access
and urge our people at MIT, Scripps, and the IAS to
freely share their ideas and to give talks within the
university. The commercial organizations make their
own agreements with the university on the intellectual
property. This model has worked for decades at MIT
and The Scripps, and is more or less in place here at
HKUST. This forward integration is critical for society to
see the benefits of their taxpayer resources, through the
eventual creation of jobs and better medicines.
MAY 2014
MAY 2014
1,2-3,4-5,6-7 10-11,12-13,14-15,16-17,18-19,20
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