To the Builders Blazing our Path to Amazing Medicines

July 19, 2021
Michael Gilman, PhD, CEO, Arrakis

Arrakis has gone through many significant transitions since its founding in 2015. We’ve evolved and matured scientifically. We’ve added investors and partners. And, of course, people come and go. Today, we reach a bittersweet transition at Arrakis. We bid our head of research and employee #005, Jim Barsoum, au revoir, as he marches bravely into a well-earned retirement. Or should I say back to retirement, as he was comfortably relaxing at home back in 2016 when Jen Petter lured him back into the fray with the siren call of developing a new class of RNA-targeted small-molecule medicines here at Arrakis.

I won’t dwell on Jim’s many accomplishments here. You can read his own reflections on his career and Jen’s tribute for all of that. What I’d like to reflect on for a moment is how important Jim has been as an integrator of Arrakis’s science. What I’ve learned over the years is that the most mission-critical characteristic of a biology leader in drug discovery is intuition. Much as we refer to experienced and successful medicinal chemists as charmed “drug hunters,” successful biology discovery leaders have an elusive but unmistakable sense of “taste” – a nose for biology that’s important and actionable, an ability to design experiments that tell the truth, and a sixth sense about what’s actually going on inside a cell or animal. Some of that capability is innate, but much of it is learned from painful failures. And Jim has both the nose for biology and the hard-won experience to put it to practical use in the service of making medicines. Indeed, Jim is the most sophisticated and supple biologist I have ever worked with. No matter the area of biology nor the therapeutic modality – remarkably, Jim has worked with small molecules, oligos, proteins, and gene therapies over the course of his career – Jim has basically done it all and could write the definitive textbook on the subject (hey, there’s your retirement project!). His experience, his judgment, his deep affinity for biology have been critical to Arrakis’s scientific development.

Jim, I want to personally thank you for everything you’ve given to Arrakis. Here’s to many happy and productive years with Sue, Julia, Zooey, and all your guitars! Don’t be a stranger! (Note to the reader: He’s joining our SAB, so we know he won’t be a stranger.)

With Jim’s departure, our science sits in the most capable hands of the remaining two-thirds of the J Team, Jennifer Petter and Jacques Dumas. Jen, our Eminent Founder, will continue to keep us on our toes with respect to Arrakis’s overarching scientific strategy and ever-improving platform in the newly created role of Chief Innovation Officer. Jacques will lead our drug discovery activities as Chief Scientific Officer. My congratulations and deep gratitude to both Jen and Jacques. Let’s go make some amazing medicines.

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