Peter Schultz Exits Top Job at Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation

Xconomy San Diego — 

Peter Schultz, the prominent chemist who founded one of San Diego’s top research centers more than a decade ago, is out as the director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF), Xconomy has learned from multiple sources.

Schultz’s departure was confirmed on his faculty biography on The Scripps Research Institute’s website, which says he founded the GNF in 1999 and stayed there until sometime in 2010. The Novartis-funded institute is one of the major scientific players on the Torrey Pines Mesa research cluster, with 560 employees working in a 260,000 square foot facility.

Novartis and Schultz didn’t respond to e-mailed requests for comment. The GNF website doesn’t have a statement on Schultz’s departure, and doesn’t say who is replacing him, or provide any biographies of its executive leaders.

Schultz is one of the best-known chemists in the world, and a potential candidate for a Nobel Prize, according to this 2005 profile in the San Diego Union-Tribune. He left UC Berkeley to come to San Diego in 1999, when he joined the faculty at Scripps and founded GNF. Schultz, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine, has also been a prolific entrepreneur, having co-founded eight biotech companies. The list includes Affymax Research Institute; Syrrx (which was sold to Takeda Pharmaceuticals in 2005 for $270 million); Kalypsys; Phenomix; Symyx Therapeutics, Ilypsa (acquired by Amgen in 2007 for $420 million); Wildcat Technologies; and Ambrx.

Peter Schultz

Peter Schultz

Ambrx, and Schultz, made news earlier this week when Xconomy broke the story that Ambrx CEO Steve Kaldor had stepped down and the company had started to search for a replacement. A spokeswoman for Ambrx noted that Schultz, a member of the Ambrx board, was expected to offer more scientific advice to the company while maintaining his full-time faculty position at Scripps.

GNF, according to its website, offers scientists the freedom to initiate and conduct research programs while staying in contact with their counterparts within Novartis R&D. The arrangement with Basel, Switzerland-based Novartis, the world’s fifth-biggest pharmaceutical company with $44 billion in revenue in 2009, is supposed to provide a unique environment at the nexus of academic inquiry and industrial resources. The center uses chemistry, biology, IT, and automation to study some of the biggest disease markets on the pharma industry radar—cancer, cardiovascular disease, autoimmunity, respiratory disease, infectious disease, and neuroscience.

“This relationship has allowed GNF to develop a unique environment and accompanying technological infrastructure not found in any university or commercial pharmaceutical setting,” GNF says on its website.

Besides working with Novartis, the GNF has collaborations with big nonprofit research supporters like the Wellcome Trust, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Medicines for Malaria Venture.