Teacher and re­searcher

Along with teach­ing at OU, Paul DeAn­ge­lis serves as chief sci­en­tist for four biotech com­pa­nies.

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - BY PAULA BURKES Busi­ness Writer pburkes@ok­la­homan.com

It was a tiny ad­ver­tise­ment in the cor­ner of a crowded bul­letin board at Har­vard Col­lege that for­tu­itously sent Paul DeAn­ge­lis, a pro­fes­sor and sci­en­tist at the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa, on his ca­reer path of study­ing sugar poly­mers — and the now real po­ten­tial for a much safer and more ef­fec­tive form of the blood-thin­ner hep­arin, bet­ter de­liv­ery meth­ods for all drugs, and more.

The year was 1981 and DeAn­ge­lis was a sopho­more look­ing for a work/study job when he spied the scrap of pa­per about re­search in­volv­ing car­bo­hy­drate chem­istry. Most of the other re­search was on pro­teins or DNA reg­u­la­tion.

“That work/study job is what started me off in the sugar world,” DeAn­ge­lis said. “I fig­ured it was a new fron­tier and I could blaze my own trail.”

And blaze he has.

Along with teach­ing at OU, DeAn­ge­lis serves as chief sci­en­tist for four biotech com­pa­nies in­clud­ing 15-year-old Heparinex, which pro­duces a syn­thetic bac­te­ria-based an­ti­co­ag­u­lant, af­ter an­i­mal-based hep­arin caused nearly 100 deaths in China, and 8-year-old Cais­son Biotech, which uses a pre­cur­sor to hep­arin — a sugar mol­e­cule na­tive to the hu­man body — for a new drug de­liv­ery method that length­ens drugs’ ef­fec­tive­ness and lessens their side ef­fects.

From his eighth-floor lab in the OU Medicine tower, DeAn­ge­lis, 55, sat down on Tues­day to talk with The Ok­la­homan about his life and ca­reer. This is an edited tran­script:

Q: Based on your sur­name, I’m guess­ing you have Ital­ian roots?

A: Yes. My dad was 100 per­cent Ital­ian. My mom is Ger­man and Ir­ish. All of my grand­par­ents were born in the U.S. Funny … once when I was vis­it­ing Sor­rento, Italy, three dif­fer­ent peo­ple mis­took me as a na­tive, invit­ing me to go some­where or ask­ing for a ride. I don’t speak Ital­ian; only the Span­ish I learned in high school.

Q: What did your par­ents do?

A: When they met, my mom was a jockey and my dad was a trainer. But when it was time for me to start school, my dad got a job in a brew­ery bot­tling plant in Bal­ti­more and my mom took care of us kids. I’m the oldest of five. Af­ter we all grad­u­ated high school, my par­ents moved out of the city to raise thor­ough­breds. My mom, who’s in her 70s, rode horses on the train­ing track un­til 10 years ago. She still lives in Mary­land; we’ve lost my dad. My sib­lings are scat­tered, but we all got to­gether this past Easter at my sis­ter’s house in Florida.

Q: When did you de­cide to be­come a sci­en­tist?

A: I al­ways liked sci­ence. As a kid, I grew plants and did ex­per­i­ments. My mom would say “Don’t make that smelly stuff in my kitchen,” but she was re­ally sup­port­ive. My par­ents, so that we’d be phys­i­cally fit, also en­cour­aged sports. I played three or four a year, in­clud­ing foot­ball and wrestling. In the spring, I’d ride my bike from lacrosse prac­tice to base­ball prac­tice.

Q: Did you get a full schol­ar­ship to Har­vard?

A: Pretty much. Ev­ery year, I had to earn $1,000, my par­ents would pay $1,000, and I’d take out a $1,000 stu­dent loan. I’m sure my par­ents were happy, be­cause I eas­ily could’ve eaten more than 1,000 bucks of food a year.

Q: What brought you to Ok­la­homa?

A: I did post­doc­toral work at the Univer­sity of Texas med­i­cal branch in Galve­ston with Paul Weigel, who re­cruited me here af­ter he be­came chair of the Bio­chem­istry and Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy De­part­ment; he’s now chair emer­i­tus. I joined the fac­ulty in De­cem­ber 1994 as an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor with my own pro­jects. I’d never even driven through Ok­la­homa, but I knew it was a good op­por­tu­nity. There al­ready was gly­co­bi­ol­ogy ex­pe­ri­ence in Ok­la­homa, OU was proac­tive with biotech ven­tures, and peo­ple here are nice and work hard.

Q: Tell us more about your promis­ing pharmaceuticals.

A: We dis­cov­ered an enzyme in bac­te­ria and har­nessed the abil­ity to make new and dif­fer­ent­sized sugar poly­mers with re­peat­ing chains. That’s opened up all sorts of pos­si­bil­i­ties for bio­ma­te­ri­als and drug de­liv­ery; much like plas­tics, which in­cludes plas­tic bags, plas­tic tubes and more.

One of the biotech com­pa­nies I founded, Hyalose LLC, is fo­cused on the com­mer­cial­iza­tion of unique re­com­bi­nant tech­nolo­gies for pro­duc­ing Hyaluronic Acid, an im­por­tant biomolecule for many health care and cos­metic ap­pli­ca­tions. Ev­ery­thing still is un­der eval­u­a­tion, but hope­fully will get into hu­mans some time. Car­bo­hy­drates are more in­vis­i­ble and harder to study than pro­teins and DNA, which are eas­ier to watch. There are fewer tools in the field, but we’re learn­ing new stuff all the time.

[PHO­TOS BY STEVE SISNEY, THE OK­LA­HOMAN]

Along with teach­ing at the Univer­sity of Ok­la­homa Health Sciences Cen­ter, Paul DeAn­ge­lis serves as chief sci­en­tist for four biotech com­pa­nies he founded.

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