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From the Lab to... Consultancy – Aleksandar Kojic, PhD

In the ‘From the lab to…’ series, we highlight our team’s diverse scientific expertise and academic backgrounds, and what led them to join the Catalyze team. In this edition Aleksandar Kojic shares more about his PhD and postdoc research, and what led him to join Catalyze.

“My previous academic and industry experiences allow me to have a clear grasp of the challenges and business trajectories of innovative companies.”

Researching master regulator of the genome, Cohesin

During his Biology degree at the University of Belgrade, Aleksandar developed a strong interest in gene regulation.

“Specifically, I was interested in understanding how regulatory, non-coding DNA elements, interact with transcriptional machinery in three-dimensional genomic space, and how this interaction shapes gene expression patterns.”

He had the chance to delve deeper into the topic during his PhD at Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO, Madrid). His research focused on  a protein complex considered to be one of the master regulators of 3D genome organization – Cohesin.

“For many years, the field was aware of the importance of cohesin for chromosome biology, namely chromosome segregation (cohesion of sister chromatids), but its role in gene regulation was vastly understudied. We set out to shed new light on differential roles of two Cohesin complexes, Cohesin-SA1 and Cohesin SA2, in 3D genome organization and gene regulation.”

Impactful findings for the field of 3D genomics

As Alex explains, there was a gap in understanding regarding the differential contribution of these two Cohesin variants towards packaging of chromatin in 3D space.

“The research we conducted unequivocally demonstrated that two Cohesin complexes indeed play different roles in organizing DNA packaging within the confined space of the cell nucleus. The results of my PhD showed the two complexes have a preference for different genomic locations, interactions of different ranges (short or long), but also for the genes they regulate.”

Aleksandar explains how their research stimulated the field to shift their focus: “This work required cross-functional, but also cross-institutional collaborations and opened new research avenues in my research group. More importantly, we shed new light on potential roles of the two in pathology of cancer, given that Cohesin subunits were found to be mutated with different frequencies in different cancer types.”

After completing his PhD, Aleksandar joined the oncogenomics department of The Netherlands Cancer Institute as a postdoc.

“There I led several projects in the field of hormone-dependent cancers, applying acquired knowledge in order to better understand the role of nuclear receptors in the onset and progression of endometrial and breast cancer. The postdoc provided me an opportunity to apply my knowledge in the context of specific tumour-types.”

Deploying scientific expertise, and developing business acumen

Despite enjoying the laboratory aspect of science, Aleksandar became increasingly curious about the translational and commercial sides of science. Therefore, following his Phd, Aleksandar enrolled in a management and entrepreneurial training programme at IE Business School (Madrid, Spain).

“It was an eye-opening experience that led me to consider careers outside of academia. After 3 years of postdoc research, I started looking for positions in industry. I firmly believed that I should look for a position where I could leverage both my scientific knowledge and entrepreneurial mindset. The opportunity came in the form of an investment analyst position with a leading venture capital firm focused on novel therapeutics.

“There I had a chance to be involved in assessment of investment opportunities across the spectrum of technologies (small molecules, cell and gene therapies) and indications (cancer, neurodegenerative, autoimmune). The team I was in had a mandate to invest in start-ups, but also in public opportunities. It was a great learning, on both science and business front.”

Joining Catalyze and becoming a trusted advisor for innovators

Aleksandar soon turned to Catalyze, where he took up his role as a Strategic Business Developer, helping to solve the fundamental resource challenges our clients need to overcome to achieve their most important innovation objectives.

“After a year of being an Investment Analyst in a VC company, during which time I understood better how the success of a company in raising funds is inherently tied to the positioning of their technology, I joined Catalyze where I am now a trusted advisor and directly involved in crafting the best solution for our clients.

“My previous academic and industry experiences allow me to have a clear grasp of the challenges and business trajectories of innovative companies. The knowledge I acquired helps to assess the quality of the research and envisioned projects of our clients, and also the commercial potential. Additionally, it enables me to find the best fit for their needs and aspirations.”

 


 

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