Grand Forks native Ryan Moslin is a chemist living in the United States who works on small molecule therapies that will potentially treat immune-mediated diseases. Photo submitted

Grand Forks grad a pioneer as a medicinal chemist

Ryan Moslin works to find treatments for immune-mediated diseases

A graduate of Grand Forks Secondary School’s class of ’97 has successfully pioneered efforts at Bristol-Myers Squibb in the discovery of a molecule that is in late stage clinical trials for the treatment of auto-immune diseases such as lupus and psoriasis.

Ryan Moslin grew up in Grand Forks and after graduating from GFSS he went on to get a bachelor of science in honours chemistry at the University of British Columbia. After graduating he was considered by several prestigious American universities and eventually he settled on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.

At MIT, Moslin completed his PhD in complex organic synthesis in 2006 and then moved onto post-doctoral studies (also at MIT) in materials science.

Upon completing these studies in 2010 Moslin was hired by Bristol-Myers Squibb as a medicinal chemist. Moslin and his team use their knowledge of chemistry, biology and physiology to try to discover new treatments for diseases and other health problems.

As a senior research investigator, Moslin worked to develop small molecule therapies that will potentially treat immune-mediated diseases — illnesses rooted in inflammation, which include cancer and arthritis.

“Small molecules is how the industry refers to molecules that are not protein based,” Ryan explained. “It’s because these molecules feature ~40 atoms where biologics will feature thousands. Biologic treatments all require an injection, any medicine you’ve taken as a ‘pill’ was a small molecule.”

Moslin focused on the discovery of a groundbreaking strategy to target the protein kinase TYK2 via its pseudokinase domain, a domain that prior to this effort was largely viewed as “undrugable”. Ultimately this effort resulted in the most selective TYK2 inhibitor to enter the clinic to date – BMS-986165.

The results of the Phase 2 trial of BMS-986165 were published in September of 2018 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Moslin continues to support the program as it continues through Phase 3 psoriasis as well as multiple Phase 2 trials, but his primary focus has shifted to leading early phase programs in immunology and immunooncology (cancer).

“I think chemists in general are attracted to challenges, even unsolvable challenges. Some of us — and I see it with my coworkers — leap at the chance to do the hardest things,” Moslin explained. “I think you’ll find most chemists don’t believe there is anything that is unsolvable.”

He has been an author or presenter on over 20 presentations, patents and publications. However, by becoming a chemist for a biopharmaceutical company, Moslin broke with a family tradition going back many generations of pursuing a career in teaching.

Moslin’s parents, Chris and Kathy, were both long-time teachers in School District 51. Kathy taught primary at Hutton and Perley until her retirement in 2010. “She still works as a TOC because she loves the kids so much,” Chris said. “She is very well known by the parents in town.”

Modest, as he is naturally, Chris himself is well known as a teacher and a councillor for the City of Grand Forks.

Grand Forks was where the couple raised three children: Ryan, Mairen and Ian.

Ryan is the oldest, explained mom Kathy. “Living in a small town was good for Ryan. He learned to work hard and push himself to be the best he could be.”

Ryan said, “I love Grand Forks, it’s a city that I’ve never really left. Be it skiing at Phoenix, walking my dad’s beloved trails or kayaking in the rivers, there’s so much beauty there that I haven’t found anywhere else.

“As a further shout out, so much of who I am as a scientist can be traced back to the outstanding teachers I had not only in high school, but also elementary school all the way back to kindergarten. My roots will always be in GF and I will always remember the city as home no matter how long I live elsewhere.”

Chris admitted, “One of the toughest things we ever had to do as parents was to drive Ryan to Spokane airport for him to get on a plane to MIT in Boston. It was a big place a long ways away but his heart was set on it. There he met his wife-to-be, Karen Miller, who was also a doctoral student in Chemistry at MIT. She was from a small town in Vermont.”

Karen was formerly a chemist at Novartis; she’s now part of the scientific communications team at Bristol-Myers Squib. Together they have two daughters: Alexis, nine, and Sienna, five. The family lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Are Alexis and Sienna interested in science?

“All children love science, which is really just asking questions and then trying to figure out how to answer them (and asking follow-up questions),” Ryan said. “My children NEVER stop asking questions, my PhD exam committee was far easier than my daily experience with Alexis and Sienna. Their questions are faster and more challenging but also far more fun to try to answer.

“They’re upstairs right now dyeing Easter eggs and I can hear them peppering their mom with questions about why we cook them and why do they change colours!”

As a professional, but most importantly as a son, husband and father himself, Kathy and Chris Moslin couldn’t be prouder of Ryan.

“Needless to say, Kathy and I have journeyed many times to the American east coast,” Chris said with obvious pride. “You don’t have to be from a big city to make a difference.”

With files from Paul Rodgers

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