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Eckerd College mourns the loss of distinguished alumnus Carlos Barbas

By Tom Scherberger
Published July 2, 2014
Categories: Academics

Carlos F. Barbas III ’85, a distinguished Eckerd College graduate and internationally recognized cancer researcher, died June 24 after a battle with a rare form of medullary thyroid cancer. He was 49.

A St. Petersburg native, Dr. Barbas  was the Janet and Keith Kellogg II Chair and professor and member of The Skaggs Institute for Chemical Biology at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI). He enrolled at Eckerd at the age of 16 and graduated in 1985 with honors and degrees in physics and chemistry.

He earned a Ph.D. in 1989 and conducted postdoctoral studies at Pennsylvania State University and at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Dr. Barbas had lofty aspirations as a child. “I always wanted to be a scientist, an astronaut or a brain surgeon,” he recalled in 2009. He left Shorecrest Preparatory School after completing all of the upper division science courses, but before graduating. It turned out to be a great decision. Barbas started out as a chemistry major, but added physics after being inspired by Professor Harry Ellis.

“Wayne Guida in organic chemistry and Harry Ellis in physics were great teachers and great people,” he says. “I liked Eckerd so much – it was very flexible, and you had a lot of freedom to form your own schedule. My only regret is that I didn’t take a fifth year.”

He joined the TSRI faculty in 1991. The New York Times reported that Dr. Barbas’ accomplishments included developing the first human antibody phage libraries, creating the first synthetic antibodies, developing the first artificial transcription factors capable of regulating endogenous genes, and pioneering chemically programmed antibodies.

He was author on more than 330 scientific articles and was a named inventor on 58 issued U.S. patents. He also was an entrepreneur, founding three companies. In 1997, he co-founded Prolifaron, which was acquired by Alexion. In 2002, he started Cov-X, which was acquired by Pfizer. In 2008, he founded Zynegenia to develop the next generation of antibody-derived drugs.

Dr. Barbas was the recipient of the Investigator Award from the Cancer Research Institute, the Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award, Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award from the American Chemical Society, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Pioneer Award and the Tetrahedron Young Investigator Award in Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry. He was named a scholar of The American Foundation for AIDS Research and a fellow of the American Associate for the Advancement of Science.

Barbas reflected in 2009 on his decision to become a researcher: “It’s better than I envisioned,” he said. “I didn’t realize when I was studying science all the other opportunities it gives you to see the world. I have a very interesting kind of job that includes traveling the world to give talks. Things that I’ve worked on are being tested on people, and at some point, there will probably be someone in my family or someone I know who benefits directly.”

“Carlos was an amazing person,” said Susan A. Slaugenhaupt ’85, Ph.D., professor of Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School and a member of the Eckerd Board of Trustees who was an Eckerd classmate of Dr. Barbas’. “From our early days as friends in Kappa where our dogs, Cricket and Ludie, played together in Kappa-Zeta field, to our recent work on the Dean’s Council for Science at Eckerd, Carlos was a true friend. He was quiet, thoughtful, remarkably intelligent, humble, and funny. The Eckerd College community has lost a great man.”

Michael Marletta, president and CEO of TSRI, expressed his condolences. “He was a creative scientist who tackled broad-ranging and important biomedical questions to lay the foundation for new therapies,” he said. “He was admired and loved by his many friends on our campus. We will miss him greatly.”

A memorial service will be held in La Jolla, Calif. He is survived by his wife, Annica; children, Derek, Sabrina, Sixten and Viggo; mother Joanna, sister, Maureen and family: Vincent, Marissa, Annalyse; step-siblings, Donny and Tami.