Salk welcomes four new leaders

Over the past few months, the Institute has welcomed four new leaders to the Salk community.

Professor Gerald Joyce was selected as Salk’s new senior vice president and chief science officer, following the departure of Martin Hetzer; Marna Whittington was appointed Board chair, assuming the role from Daniel Lewis; Bryan Robinson was named vice president of External Relations to take over for the retiring Rebecca Newman; and Sue Bacino was appointed vice president of Human Resources.

Gerald Joyce
Senior Vice President and Chief Science Officer

Joyce began his scientific career at Salk as a PhD student and postdoctoral scholar and returned as a faculty member in 2017. His research program focuses on the development of novel RNA and DNA enzymes and their potential application in clinical diagnostics and therapeutics. His work has led to the development of the first self-replicating RNA enzyme that is capable of exponential growth and evolution.

Joyce previously served as director of the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, dean of the faculty at Scripps Research, chair of the JASON scientific advisory group for US national security and member of the Technology Advisory Council of BP plc.

“I’m honored to serve Salk in this important role. I have a deep affection for the Institute, so this is truly special to me,” Joyce says. “I’m not going to be focused on the ‘chief’ or ‘officer’ parts of ‘chief science officer.’ It is going to be all about the science. Our prime directive and the overarching goal of the Salk Institute is to produce high-impact science.”

Joyce graduated with a BA from the University of Chicago in 1978 and both an MD and PhD from UC San Diego in 1984. He completed his postgraduate medical training at Mercy Hospital in San Diego and postdoctoral research training at the Salk Institute.

Marna Whittington
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Whittington is the former CEO of Allianz Global Investors Capital and was elected as a Salk Trustee in 2005. She had served as vice-chair since 2016.

Whittington also served as chief operating officer of Allianz Global Investors, the parent company of Allianz Global Investors Capital. Prior to that, she was managing director and chief operating officer of Morgan Stanley Asset Management. Whittington also currently serves on the boards of Tower Hill School, Macy’s Inc., the Philadelphia Contributionship (a company founded by Benjamin Franklin), Phillips 66 and Oaktree Capital Management.

“It is a privilege to be named chair of Salk’s Board of Trustees,” says Whittington. “I am honored to step into this role as we begin our five-year Campaign for the Future to expand our capabilities and advance science across the Institute. And I am proud to be a part of a Board that has a collective commitment to supporting Salk’s esteemed faculty as they strive to find solutions to the most significant challenges impacting human health.”

Whittington holds a master’s degree and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, both in quantitative methods, and a BA in mathematics from the University of Delaware.

Bryan Robinson
Vice President of External Relations

Robinson joins Salk from The Jackson Laboratory, an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution headquartered in Bar Harbor, Maine, where he served as the vice president for advancement and a senior member of the president’s executive committee.

Prior to his role at The Jackson Laboratory, Robinson served as president of the UNCP Foundation and vice chancellor for advancement at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He served previously as the senior assistant vice president and interim vice president at the University of Louisville. Robinson was also a senior director of development and campaign planning at Indiana University and a state government appointee in Indiana.

“I feel honored and privileged to join this elite research institute,” Robinson says. “I’ve seen myself how important education and science are, how transformative they can be to people’s lives, and so I’ve spent my career working to support these efforts through philanthropy. There is so much opportunity here at Salk, with our strong leadership, Board of Trustees and External Relations team, as well as our new Campaign, to leverage all that’s already been accomplished and build upon the Institute’s outstanding history and reputation.”

Robinson earned his undergraduate degree in pre-law studies and his master’s degree in education administration at the University of Louisville. He earned a PhD in education and social change at Bellarmine University, during which time he completed field research at the University of Roehampton in London on the impact of poverty on child and youth development.

Sue Bacino
Vice President of Human Resources

Bacino joined Salk having most recently served as head of HR for a medical device company in Carlsbad. In that role—reporting to the CEO and serving as a key member of the leadership team—Bacino was responsible for the implementation of all HR-related processes and functions. Prior to that, she held the same position at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation, where she partnered with scientific leadership on recruiting, engaging and retaining talent.

Bacino has also served as executive director of HR for Amylin Pharmaceuticals, and she held various leadership positions at Vical Incorporated before Amylin. Her experience beyond the med-tech field includes serving as vice president of HR for Father Joe’s Villages and Breg, Inc.

“I’m honored to join the team at Salk,” Bacino says. “While I am not a scientist, I am motivated to have a positive impact on this organization where the brightest human minds work to positively impact the human condition.”

Bacino earned her BA degree from UC Davis and completed coursework in a Master of Administration program at San Diego State University.

Salk promotes Kenta Asahina, Eiman Azim and Margarita Behrens

Assistant Professors Kenta Asahina and Eiman Azim were promoted to associate professor, and Associate Research Professor Margarita Behrens was promoted to research professor, each for their original, innovative and notable contributions to neuroscience.

Kenta Asahina

Asahina conducts research on the genetic and neural basis of social interactions as part of the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory. To study the basis of animal social behavior, he uses the common fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism for understanding the genes and brain cells that cause behavioral responses, such as aggression, escape and courtship. Asahina’s discoveries include a molecule released from brain cells associated with aggressive behavior in Drosophila. This same molecule was linked to aspects of aggressive behavior in mammalian models, which suggests it may serve as a therapeutic target for alleviating some behavioral symptoms associated with mental and psychiatric disorders.

Eiman Azim

Azim, who holds the William Scandling Developmental Chair, conducts research in the Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, where he studies how the nervous system guides movement. Understanding how movements are learned, planned, executed and corrected can teach us more about the ways our brains coordinate complex motions such as reaching, grasping and object manipulation. By dissecting the movement pathways one element at a time, Azim aims to pinpoint neural circuits and piece together the underpinnings of skilled motions. Dexterous movements of the arms and hands are critical functions often affected by neurodegenerative disease and injury, and Azim’s work seeks to lay the foundation for better treatments and recovery of function.

Margarita Behrens

Behrens is a member of the Computational Neurobiology Laboratory, where she studies brain development and disruption. From birth to adulthood our brains activate or inhibit cells in response to our environments. However, this context-dependent regulatory mechanism may go awry in some individuals as they develop. Behrens focuses on the interplay between our environments and cellular processes to determine why some people develop brain disorders while others do not. She also investigates brain circuit formation and disruption within the regions responsible for planning, reasoning and decision-making. By charting how cells control gene activity and changes that occur during cell maturation, Behrens’ work could lead to a better understanding of neuropsychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and autism.

For a full interview with Behrens, please visit this issue’s Observations feature.

Professor Martyn Goulding wins Brain Prize

Goulding received the Lundbeck Foundation’s 2022 Brain Prize for pioneering research on the neuronal circuits that control movement.

Goulding shares the prize—the world’s top recognition in neuroscience, totaling 10 million DKK (approximately $1.5 million)—with Professor Ole Kiehn at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and Professor Silvia Arber at the University of Basel and Friedrich Miescher Institute in Switzerland. His Royal Highness The Crown Prince of Denmark bestowed the prize to the trio at an event in Copenhagen on May 24.

Salk Institute receives Charity Navigator’s highest rating for 11th consecutive time

For the 11th consecutive time, the Salk Institute earned the highest ranking—four out of four stars—from Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity and nonprofit evaluator. Only two percent of the approximately 10,000 nonprofits evaluated have achieved this recognition 10 consecutive times. The coveted ranking indicates the Salk Institute has demonstrated strong financial health and commitment to accountability and transparency, outperforming most other charities in the United States with respect to executing best fiscal practices and carrying out its mission in a financially efficient way.

Charity Navigator’s data-driven analysis of the 1.5 million American charities has been covered by Forbes, Business Week and others for providing donors with a way to recognize nonprofits that provide greater accountability, transparency and concrete results.

Since receiving its previous rating from Charity Navigator in 2021, the Salk Institute has launched the Campaign for the Future: Building a More Resilient World—a bold, five-year, $500 million effort to attract the people and acquire the technology and space necessary to expand and accelerate Salk’s critical research. At the center of this audacious goal is the plan to build the 100,000-square-foot Joan and Irwin Jacobs Science and Technology Center.

The first major commitment toward the construction of the Jacobs Center came from longtime Salk supporters Joan and Irwin Jacobs in the form of a match challenge. Between now and September 30, 2022, the Jacobs will contribute $1 for every $2 donated—up to $100 million, which would translate to a total of $300 million with matching funds—for gifts or pledges made toward the campaign.

Since 2002, Charity Navigator has used objective analysis to award only the most fiscally responsible organizations a four-star rating; only a quarter of charities rated receive this distinction. In 2011, Charity Navigator added to its ratings methodology 17 metrics, focused on governance, ethical practices and measures of openness. These Accountability and Transparency metrics, which account for 50 percent of a charity’s overall rating, reveal which charities operate in accordance with industry best practices and whether they are open with their donors and stakeholders.

Postdoctoral Fellow Katia Troha named 2022 Leading Edge Fellow

Leading Edge is an initiative to improve the gender diversity of life sciences faculty in the United States by providing women and nonbinary postdocs with presentation, networking, mentorship and career development opportunities. As a 2022 Fellow, Troha joins an elite group of 45 superstar postdocs conducting cutting-edge research in biochemistry, cell and developmental biology, neuroscience, microbiology, bioinformatics, bioengineering and more. Troha studies mechanisms of asymptomatic infection in the lab of Professor Janelle Ayres.

Richard Murphy, former Salk Institute president and CEO, dies at 77

The Salk Institute mourns the loss of Richard “Rich” Murphy, who died March 24 in La Quinta, California, at the age of 77. Murphy served as the Institute’s president and CEO from 2000 to 2007. During his tenure, Murphy led the renovation of nearly a third of Salk’s research space and the hiring of 16 new investigators to strengthen the Institute’s cancer, plant biology and gene regulation research programs.

Biopharmaceutical executive Carol Gallagher joins Salk Board of Trustees

In May, the Salk Board of Trustees welcomed Carol Gallagher as a new trustee. Gallagher brings a wealth of experience in the business and investment side of the life sciences industry to Salk’s board. She is a venture partner at New Enterprise Associates, a US-based, worldwide venture capital firm focused on a variety of investment stages ranging from seed through growth stage, and across a broad array of industry sectors. She has 30 years of experience in commercial, drug development and business development roles. Gallagher’s current work focuses on the biopharmaceutical industry.

At Salk, Gallagher also serves as chair of the Salk Women & Science Advisory Committee. Recently, she and her husband, John Gallagher, helped establish the Swati Tyagi Memorial Fund at Salk.

Salk scientists receive 2022 Mark Foundation Endeavor Award to study lung cancer

Professors Reuben Shaw, Susan Kaech, Christian Metallo and Alan Saghatelian have received a 2022 Mark Foundation for Cancer Research Endeavor Award to support their research exploring the metabolic changes that help lung cancers develop. The $3 million Endeavor Award promotes collaborative science to tackle some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. The Salk team—one of four teams chosen out of nearly 200 applications submitted by institutions around the world—hopes their work will lead to the development of more effective lung cancer treatments.

Salk scientists and San Diego Botanic Garden collaborate to create national medicinal plants collection

The San Diego Botanic Garden, in collaboration with Salk scientists, launched a national medicinal plants collection and research consortium made possible by a $384,000 grant from the Conrad Prebys Foundation. The consortium’s goal is to acquire and grow at least 500 new medicinal plants, develop comprehensive living plant collection protocols to optimize drug discovery and establish a garden to teach botanic garden visitors about medicinal plants.

Professor Ronald Evans receives AACR-G.H.A. Clowes Award

At the April annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), Evans was awarded the 2022 AACR-G.H.A. Clowes Award for Outstanding Basic Cancer Research. Evans was recognized for his work on a large family of molecules called nuclear hormone receptors. The receptors Evans discovered are primary targets in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer and leukemia, as well as osteoporosis and asthma.

Professor Susan Kaech elected as American Association of Immunologists councilor

Kaech, director of Salk’s NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, was elected to the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) to serve as councilor from 2022 to 2026. The AAI Council comprises eight scientists who are collectively responsible for advancing knowledge of immunology and its related disciplines.

In her lab, Kaech studies a class of immune cells, known as memory T cells, that are responsible for developing long-term immunity to infection. Memory T cells could be used to treat cancer by leveraging the body’s own immune system––a budding field called cancer immunotherapy. She also studies how immune cells are metabolically regulated by the types of nutrients they consume in cancer. Kaech will bring her expertise to the AAI Council to promote advances in immunology education, public awareness, advocacy and research.

Professor Samuel Pfaff awarded $1 million by the W.M. Keck Foundation

Pfaff was awarded $1 million by the W.M. Keck Foundation. The funding will allow Pfaff, who is a professor in Salk’s Gene Expression Laboratory and the Benjamin H. Lewis Chair, and his team to develop a new technology to better characterize neural circuits in the brain. The method will provide information about gene expression and function using a novel RNA detection system.

Professor Terrence Sejnowski awarded Gruber Prize

Sejnowski was awarded the 2022 Gruber Neuroscience Prize by the Gruber Foundation for his “pioneering contributions to computational and theoretical neuroscience.” He shares the $500,000 award with three other scientists from three different institutions. Sejnowski, who is head of Salk’s Computational Neurobiology Laboratory and a distinguished professor at UC San Diego, has helped shape the fields of neuroeconomics, neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, psychology and artificial intelligence.

Professor Tony Hunter receives 2022 AACR Lifetime Achievement Award

Hunter received the 2022 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Award for Lifetime Achievement in Cancer Research at the group’s annual meeting in April. AACR is the largest cancer research organization in the world dedicated to preventing and curing all cancers. This major award is a significant recognition of Hunter’s contributions to cancer research, which have led to the development of the highly effective leukemia drug Gleevec. Hunter, who is an American Cancer Society Professor and holds the Renato Dulbecco Chair at Salk, studies the molecular basis of normal cell growth control and cell cycle regulation, and what happens when these processes are disrupted—such as occurs in tumors. He is widely known for his 1979 discovery of a molecular switch called tyrosine phosphorylation that, when flipped on permanently, can trigger cancer cell proliferation. This discovery launched an entirely new field of research and has led to a new class of anti-cancer drugs known as tyrosine kinase inhibitors.

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