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Profile: Scripps Florida Researcher and Inaugural Science Symposium Keynoter Patrick Griffin

posted on 10/21/2009

by Mary Ellen Collins

Dr. Patrick R. Griffin is the keynote speaker for the inaugural science sympsosium, Molecules and Life: Science Serving Society, to be held on October 23-24, 2009 at Eckerd's Sheen Science Center.

Pat Griffin wears two hats at The Scripps Research Institute, Scripps Florida, reflecting the Institute's identity as a biomedical research organization and one of the top-10 Ph.D.-awarding institutions in the country. On the academic side, Griffin serves as Professor and founding Chair of the Molecular Therapeutics Department. On the research side, he is Director and head of the Translational Research Institute, where his research group focuses on understanding how proteins are implicated in diseases and disorders that include cancer, diabetes and obesity.

As a kid on Long Island, Griffin says he was into things like collecting bugs and figuring out why things work the way they do. By the time he got to high school, he envisioned a career either "working in a lab doing experiments or designing instruments or machines." Although he was undecided between Chemistry and Engineering when he entered Syracuse University, internships in chemistry labs swayed his decision.

He received a doctorate in Chemistry at the University of Virginia, during which time he had the opportunity to help develop technology for looking at proteins that eventually evolved into a new field called "proteomics."

Griffin's career continued in California with stints as an Associate Scientist at Genentech, Inc., and a Research Associate at Caltech. During the next nine years at Merck Research Laboratories, Griffin rose through the ranks to become a Senior Director, and his accomplishments included participating in the development of Januvia, a new medication for diabetes.

"I never left the lab," he says of those first 13 years. But he did leave Merck to carve out a new path in 2002. "I thought I could create and run my own company, so I got entrepreneurial and left the mother ship." He became the Chief Science Officer for his own research company, ExSAR Corporation.

"After two years, in addition to running the research, I became the guy who had to raise all the money. The biotechnology bubble burst around 2000-2001. It was a bad time to be raising venture capital, and I wasn't doing what I wanted to do - which was to do research exclusively."

A renewed focus on research brought him to Scripps, where he and his team have been driving the development of new technologies for looking at the structure of proteins and understanding how they are implicated in diseases and how different drugs interact with them. Motivated by constantly discovering new information, he describes his position as "being with good people working on good projects with good funding and good resources."

On October 23, 2009, Griffin will make his first visit to Eckerd College to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural science symposium, Molecules and Life: Science Serving Society.

"Pat Griffin provides a wonderful outside-Eckerd College perspective on the impact of basic research at the interface of the chemical and biological sciences to address diseases that affect human health," says Symposium Chair, Jeff Dodge '84. "He brings a unique view on the life sciences research in the corridor that is developing from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa to the Burnham Research Institute in Orlando to Scripps in West Palm, and how a place like Eckerd fits in terms of educating folks who will go on to discover cures for breast cancer, tuberculosis and AIDS."

When asked about the value of a broad liberal arts and sciences education in preparing aspiring young scientists, Griffin highlights transferable skills as well as qualities that are more abstract. "Everything we do involves raising money and writing grants - and liberal arts would help any academic researchers communicate clearly and convincingly that what they're working on is important. ...Also, scientists are typically driven by laws and facts, but if you have an independent research program, you have to be creative in asking, 'What's the next thing you have to figure out?' You can teach someone to be a good scientist, but it's hard, in a purely scientific setting, to teach a person to be creative."

This feature is the second of a series of profiles of Eckerd alumni and friends who embody the emphasis of the Sciences at Eckerd College. Learn more about the Many Experiences, One Spirit: The Campaign for Eckerd College and the Center for Molecular and Life Sciences, a Campaign priority.

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