July 7, 2021

Inside Enko: A Conversation with Chemistry Research Fellow Neville Anthony

Chemistry Research Fellow Neville Anthony sits down for an inside scope into Enko

Welcome back to Inside Enko, where we introduce you to our team members and offer a glimpse of what it’s like working here.

Today, Chemistry Research Fellow Neville Anthony tells us about his career leap from pharma to agriculture and shares a day in his life at Enko (powered by coffee!).

After more than 25 years working on drug discovery, what drew you to agriculture?

I spent most of those years working at Merck, which is a big multinational company. My first dip into the biotech world was at Warp Drive Bio, a blue sky, cutting edge startup. I loved my time at Merck, but moving into biotech provided a breath of fresh air. At Warp Drive Bio, I was the first chemist, employee 11 and worked in small teams – that’s very different from taking a minivan from one side of campus to the other!

I discovered that I really like working at a company during its formative stage. Also, I’m a scientist at heart, and I saw an opportunity to take all the skills I developed in pharma and apply them in a different way in agriculture.

Tell us more about that. How do Enko’s work and mission resonate with you?

Enko’s target-based approach incorporates a DNA Encoded Library platform, which has been a shiny new object in pharma in recent years that’s produced clinical candidates. The opportunity to apply that approach in a brand new way was a driving force for me to join Enko.

I also appreciate seeing chemistry’s impact on a global scale. During my time in pharma, I worked on drug development for HIV. I saw the shift from the earliest days of the epidemic when the disease was fatal, to the point today where it’s manageable. Within that shift, there are discrepancies between more and less developed parts of the world and we’ve seen what happens when people don’t have access to medicines.

I see parallels between this and Enko’s work. Global warming and increasing pest resistance to existing agents are significant challenges. As we tackle those problems, it’s important to develop accessible global solutions. Enko’s partnership with the Gates Foundation is helping make that happen.

Tell us about parallels you’ve found between pharma and crop health. What processes or learnings do you apply from drug discovery to your work at Enko?

When you swallow a pill, it goes through your digestive system and into your circulatory system. We’re working on the same thing for plants. For example, by applying an herbicide to a weed, it needs to get through the barriers on a leaf’s surface, into the plant’s “blood stream,” and engage our targets of interest. These processes are spiritually similar.

At Enko, we’re taking the process that’s been the backbone of pharma for many years and applying it to agriculture. It’s a target-based approach: targeting molecular entities in defined biochemical pathways and blocking their function.

What has surprised you about the transition to agriculture?

I was impressed by the shorter development timelines in agriculture. We can go straight into a target organism; we don’t have to develop a model of a disease state as is often necessary in pharma. For instance, we can go straight into a herbicide-resistant weed population and study the effects of our compounds directly and rapidly.

Another difference is that in pharma, you’re trying to change a disease state in a person without causing side effects. In agriculture, we similarly worry about not harming the crop – but we also consider the rest of the ecosystem, like humans and pollinators. Ag requires a broader perspective of safety.

You’re passionate about managing and mentoring scientists. How has this shaped your career?

Most scientists are inherently curious, and my philosophy is to tap into that. I have the benefit of having seen the pharma industry evolve over 30 years. Things have changed incredibly over that time, including the development of so much powerful tech. It’s hard to recognize the impact of emerging tech in the moment, but looking back it becomes clear. I encourage my teams to take full advantage of emerging tools and all the ones developed over the last decades.

Our work as scientists is very challenging, and much of the time we fail. As a manager and mentor, another big part of my role is helping my teams make time to celebrate when we win!

What does your typical day at Enko look like?

There is no typical day, except that they all include coffee!

Much of my time is spent designing compounds, then working with chemists to synthesize them. It’s an interesting challenge to make molecules that have never been made before.

One thing that I love about agriculture is that it’s very visual. Almost every day, we go into the lab or our greenhouses to see what our compounds are actually doing. I work with my biologist colleagues to understand what they’re seeing and how they interpret it. Are our compounds killing the plant’s leaves, or getting absorbed and translating to reach their target? I really enjoy seeing the direct impact of our work.

Interested in joining the Enko team? Check out our open roles here.

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