When M. Karen Newell-Rogers, Ph.D., watches cells grow and die, she sees the origins of diseases, and she envisions treatments that will save lives. Her quest to find cures in the most basic cellular mechanisms has led her to prominence as a biomedical research pioneer and a biotech industry leader.
As Director of the Center for Cell Death and Differentiation at Scott & White/Texas A&M Health Science Center, where she holds the Raleigh R. White III Endowed Chair of Surgical Research, Newell-Rogers has zeroed in on a peptide sequence, CLIP, that plays a key role in the body’s inflammation and immune responses.
As Chief Scientist of VG Life Sciences, Inc. (VGLS), Newell-Rogers is exploring how CLIP-targeting technology might be used to treat a range of disorders, including cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and brain trauma. “We feel that the peptide is selectively removing those cells responsible for the chronic inflammatory condition that is a player in many diseases,” she said, “so it has many possible applications.”
Trained as an immunologist, Newell-Rogers made a pivotal discovery about CLIP activity in her research at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. News of her work reached VGLS co-founder Haig Keledjian at a time when the company was puzzling over what peptides or peptide fragments were in a thymic extract that seemed to boost the immune systems of some AIDS patients.
“The content of the extract wasn’t known at the molecular level, and the mechanism wasn’t known,” Newell-Rogers recalled. “Haig saw that by integrating what VGLS had learned with my findings, they could provide a potential mechanism for how the protein works.” She joined the VGLS leadership team in 2011 and became the primary inventor of the company’s signature Targeted Peptide and Metabolic Disruption patented technologies.
Along with an impressive record of research achievement that includes over 40 issued or pending patents and several dozen peer-reviewed papers, Newell has a gift for explaining science in lucid and lively terms. Describing her CLIP discovery, she said, “It was fun, like a Rubik’s cube.” She summarizes her focus on cellular activity with precise eloquence: “Cell death and differentiation is about understanding and repairing the processes of life.”