He’d just completed his doctorate in biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania and was ready to take on postdoctoral studies in the lab of Peter Wright, now the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Investigator in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research. “NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) was becoming a hot area in science at the time and Wright was developing new NMR methods that no one else had. The whole structural biology group that Scripps Research had assembled was, in fact, world class.”
Moore subsequently leveraged his training to become “employee #36” at Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a startup focused on developing treatments for diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, caused by mutations in a particular family of 48 proteins called ABC transporters. He spent nearly three decades there, rising to vice president and helping it mature into a company with 3900 employees and a current market cap of over $75 billion.
Scripps Research remained a common thread throughout his career. “My first year in Boston at Vertex,” Moore says, “I met Jamie Williamson, who had a lab at MIT. We quickly developed a friendship, always talking science. Then he moved to Scripps Research, though we stayed in touch.” Williamson is now a professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology.
Vertex, by targeting the transporter protein CFTR, created multiple FDA-approved drugs to treat cystic fibrosis. Moore was inspired to apply the same strategy to develop treatments for other ABC transporter disorders. But these conditions are rare, with a limited number of patients worldwide, making it difficult to raise funding for research.
Undaunted, Moore began expanding his knowledge and resources. He left Vertex in March 2018 and three days later, at Williamson’s invitation, was sitting in the Scripps Research lab of Andrew Ward, learning about cryogenic electron microscopy(cryo-EM). Ward uses cryo-EM to, among other things, investigate membrane proteins and viruses. Moore also attended classes on financing, consulted with biotech leaders and began networking. In June 2018, he founded Rectify Pharmaceuticals and asked Williams onto sit on its scientific advisory board. Three years later, the young company had raised $100 million to finance drug discovery.
By any measure, Moore is a success. And his connection to Scripps Research remains strong. “My time at Scripps Research was transformative,” he says. “The environment, the incredible scientists I got to meet. So, for me, it was just a matter of wanting to give back.” Always supportive of a top-notch education, he and his wife, Lonnie—whom he met at Scripps Research—established the Moore Family Fellowship in Structural Biology in the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences to support a graduate student in Scripps Research’s doctoral program. The Moores’ donation of $500,000was supplemented by an equal amount from the Skaggs family’s foundations to create the $1 million permanently endowed fellowship.
“I was blown away when Jon approached me about endowing a fellowship,” says Williamson. “It says a lot about how much Scripps Research played a role in shaping his career—to the extent that he wanted to provide an up-and-coming student the same opportunity he had. It also means a lot to have great friends support the institution where I have spent the majority of my career—in structural biology!”
There are hurdles ahead. Patients with ABC transporter disorders can have the same disease but dissimilar genetic mutations and it will take time to unravel those puzzles. Vertex, for example, spent a decade identifying the right molecules to treat cystic fibrosis. To date, no other company has successfully developed a small molecule to transform a mutant protein.
But Moore is confident that good science and a good team will open the road to valuable new discoveries. That’s something he learned at Scripps Research.