Scripps bigshot who cofounded Synthorx exits amid mystery

Floyd Romesberg and his Scripps colleague Denis Malyshev are known for engineering bacteria that replicate using two synthetic letters—or nucleotide bases—of DNA, in addition to the four naturally occurring ones. (Synthorx)

Floyd Romesberg, Ph.D., the renowned Scripps Research scientist and scientific founder of synthetic cytokine biotech Synthorx, has bid the institute adieu. His exit is shrouded in mystery though—and Scripps isn’t dropping any hints. 

Romesberg left La Jolla-based Scripps in mid-June, the institute told the San Diego Union-Tribune on Thursday. He had been investigated and cleared for a potential violation of Title IX, a law that bars sex discrimination in education programs that receive federal financial assistance. 

“We did learn information suggesting a potential Title IX violation by Dr. Romesberg. Even though no formal complaint was made, we promptly conducted a thorough and impartial investigation. Based on the investigation, Scripps Research found no violation of Title IX, the gender equity regulation governing academic institutions,” the institute told the Union-Tribune. 

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“However, Dr. Romesberg is no longer with Scripps Research, we are winding down his lab at the institute, and we will not comment on any personnel decision by Dr. Romesberg or Scripps Research.” 

RELATED: Preclinical biotech Synthorx wants a $100M IPO 

Romesberg and his Scripps colleague Denis Malyshev are known for engineering bacteria that replicate using two synthetic letters—or nucleotide bases—of DNA, in addition to the four naturally occurring ones. Adding more letters means the bacteria can produce many more kinds of proteins—a boon for drug discovery. 

Their work provided the basis for Synthorx’s platform, which makes proteins that cannot be produced via normal methods, in a cost-effective and efficient way. The biotech raised a $10 million series B in 2016 to create new protein treatments that use at least one synthetic amino acid and topped that up with another $63 million last year. The still-preclinical biotech went public in December. 

Though he has departed Scripps, Romesberg remains on Synthorx’s board. 

“Dr. Romesberg is a brilliant scientist whose truly revolutionary technology is being used by Synthorx to create new medicines,” said CEO Laura Shawver in an email to the Union-Tribune. “Dr. Romesberg continues to be an adviser on our research programs and he is a director of the board." 

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