Genelex associate lab director follows life-long passion for pharmacogenetics research

pharmacogeneticsAs a 12 year-old-boy in India, Ranjit Thirumaran, M.Pharm, PhD, saw the toll adverse drug reactions can take firsthand.

Following hospitalization after a minor accident, his uncle suddenly died, likely due to an adverse drug reaction from a recently administered dose of warfarin.

“I was always curious: Could something have been done to save him?” said Dr. Thirumaran, Genelex’s associate lab director.

“Over time when I learned about the pharmacogenetics field, it kind of thrilled me,” he continued. “Using molecular data to tailor drug therapy to the individual patient, in order to maximize therapeutic benefit and to minimize adverse events.”

This interest ultimately brought Dr. Thirumaran into the field of genetics. With a Master’s in Pharmacy from Birla Institute of Technology, one of India’s most prestigious institutes, already under his belt, Dr. Thirumaran received an international PhD program fellowship from Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research in 2004.

He earned his PhD in molecular genetic epidemiology in 2006 from the German Cancer Research Center, Germany’s largest biomedical research facility. Here his research focused on the genetics of skin cancer and resulted in 13 international publications.

Pharmacogenetics, or the genetic basis of variability in drug responses, was Dr. Thirumaran’s next field of study. He began his post-doctoral fellowship at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn, in 2007. He eventually became a staff scientist, where he published pharmacogenetics and drug metabolism research.

A key area of research for Dr. Thirumaran was his work on genetic predictors of human CYP activity (the family of liver enzymes that metabolizes many common medications), including a few original discoveries in this field. His research on vitamin D receptor gene variants as predictors of intestinal CYP3A4 expression, and that CYP3A4 intestinal expression varies seasonally,  won him Best Research Presentation at the 17th International Society for the Study of Xenobiotics conference.

After seven years at St. Jude, Dr. Thirumaran decided it was time for a change of scenery and wanted to continue his passion for pharmacogenetics in Seattle. He had visited the Emerald City twice before and thought now would be a good a time as any to move to a place that had grown on him.

“I just fell in love with this place,” he said of Seattle. “I like the weather (I am a pluviophile – a lover of rain), the mountains, the lakes, the parks, the eclectic neighborhoods, the beaches. I like the energy here.”

With a new home in mind, Dr. Thirumaran now needed a new job. He wanted to venture into the clinical, rather than the research, side of pharmacogenetics and began his search for Seattle-based labs.

“When I looked for pharmacogenetics companies in Washington state, Genelex was kind of the premiere place,” he said, adding that he turned down a research position in Chicago.

Dr. Thirumaran began at Genelex in October as associate lab director, where he works directly under Dr. Tia Aulinskas, the company’s chief science officer and co-founder. He directly supervises laboratory administrative support, clinical trials project groups, the publications committee and assists Dr. Aulinskas with oversight of the technical lab group.

Through it all, Dr. Thirumaran remembers what first made him interested in clinical pharmacogenetics and feels fortunate to be part of the field.

“The thing that’s inspiring, or that I enjoy in this field is getting the right dose of the right drug to the right patient at the right time and seeing the patient’s quality of life improve,” he said.

“When you can actually see significant improvements in a patient’s quality of life;  that makes me feel as if you did something for the patient’s benefit. That’s one thing I always enjoy.”