Sali Takes the Helm of QB3 at UCSF

By Robin Hindery

Bioengineering professor and protein expert Andrej Sali, PhD, has been appointed as the new director of the UCSF arm of the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3), where he will work to transform groundbreaking research into therapies and products that benefit society.

Andrej Sali

Sali, who previously served on the QB3 at UCSF executive committee, said he is approaching the two-year position with “a mixture of excitement and apprehension. “As scientists, we are selected and promoted for the specific type of research we do particularly well,” said Sali, a professor and vice chair of the UCSF schools of Pharmacy and Medicine's joint Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences. “But at some point, some of us are asked to do very important jobs in which success requires all sorts of tasks and abilities that have nothing to do with our area of expertise. So this is sort of a risk for me and for the QB3 institution.” Regis Kelly, PhD, the overall director of QB3, said he has no doubt that Sali will shine in his new role, which took effect April 1. “Ever since he was recruited to UCSF in 2003, Andrej has been an enthusiast for assembling research teams to solve important problems,” Kelly said. “His success makes him an ideal leader for the QB3-UCSF program.” Sali will have the advantage of building the program from the firm foundation set by his predecessor, Sarah Nelson, PhD, a professor in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and co-chair of the newly created Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences. Under Nelson, QB3 at UCSF set itself apart as a high-functioning, stand-alone entity that attracted valuable new recruits, philanthropic support and industry partnerships, Kelly said. “Under Sarah’s excellent leadership, QB3-UCSF has developed its own personality, its own funding priorities and its own administration,” he said. Sali said he hoped to strike a balance between promoting collaborative partnerships with the other QB3 facilities – located at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz – and identifying and nurturing UCSF’s own promising research efforts. “There’s a desire to make the biggest possible impact, and cross-campus initiatives are one way to do that, but not the only way,” Sali said. “After all, E=MC² was the output of a single person, and that had a pretty big impact. “The major goal I’ve set for myself is to find out if there are some unique scientific initiatives we can organize at QB3-UCSF and really make something happen that way,” he added. “That could be basic science, some sort of technology development, some translational research-oriented activity or all of the above. But first, it’s just about seeing what concepts and ideas are out there.” Kelly cited the creation of the Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI) by QB3 at UC Berkeley in 2007 as a model he hopes Sali and his colleagues will emulate. EBI, which focuses on clean energy research, is a partnership between UC Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of Illinois and oil giant BP, which donated $500 million to the project. “The creation of the EBI illustrates what we see as the preeminent goal of QB3 in future years,” Kelly said. “The award from BP was won because we identified a major societal problem, assembled a team with the diverse talents to solve it and identified a private partner capable of turning projects into products.” That process of transferring biomedical and other biological innovations to the marketplace to meet critical needs forms the core of QB3’s mission. “We are confident that Dr. Sali will lead us to address equally challenging and important problems facing our society,” Kelly said. Sali is a widely recognized leader in the development of methods to predict and analyze protein structure. Among other accomplishments, he and his colleagues at the Sali Lab at QB3 have created cutting-edge software that is able to determine the shape and position of complex protein structures in real time.

Related Links:

California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences (QB3) at UCSF

Sali Lab at QB3

Poring Over Proteins: A Conversation with Protein Expert Andrej Sali
Science Café, Jan. 11, 2008