Growing up in Malaysia, Auro Nair learned two basic tenets from his parents: Be a good person and do well in school. These maxims may have seemed simplistic to a child in Kuala Lumpur, but they’ve come to be fundamental. As Nair moved through graduate school in STEM to biotech and eventually partnership at Digitalis Ventures, he found the standards of honor and education had established firm foundations for a lifelong ethos.
He drew on that guiding star as he helped many start-ups and business enterprises build and demonstrate their own missions. Now, Nair has joined the Board of Directors at the Institute of Protein Innovation (IPI), where he again hopes to embody his personal calling to do good while pushing biological research forward.
“What IPI is doing is pretty incredible,” he says. “I want to help contribute in some small fashion to that which ends up existing way beyond any one of us into the future.”
Nair grew up as the child of Indian immigrants. His mother received little formal education but possessed a “level of intelligence that is not a function of the number of years of schooling,” according to Nair. She remained his fiercest chess opponent throughout her life. His father had fought for Indian independence before joining the Allied forces in World War II. Both pushed their progeny to study hard en route to better circumstances.
The studious Nair tried to do just that, at first fanning a flame for mathematics. While he did well early on, by college “math stopped loving me back,” he says, laughing. He then sought and found a discipline nearby to numbers: chemistry and physics. (Though decades later, he’d transfer his youthful math infatuation to his own kids; both his son and daughter have since pursued degrees in mathematics.)
After graduating with honors from the University of Science, Malaysia, Nair embarked on a Ph.D. at the University of Oklahoma, working with Robert White to apply analytical chemistry to questions of structure and function in materials science.
When Nair neared the completion of his Ph.D., family circumstances forced him to take a leave of absence; he headed back to Malaysia to offer support, taking on a job in scientific operational management at Glaxo, a British multinational biopharmaceutical company operating in Singapore.
The “gap year” drew on to four years. Nair began to think he might never complete his degree. But he was committed to education, and he’d formed a close bond with Glaxo’s then site director Alan Catterall. Every few months, Catterall would pressure Nair to finish what he’d started, promising a spot at Glaxo, should Nair come back. And, across the globe, White was doing the same, periodically checking in to remind Nair that the research window wasn’t yet closed.
Just eight months before his student status clock ran out, Nair returned to Oklahoma, did further research, published his work and finished his Ph.D. It was a massive achievement, and one that Nair says wouldn’t have been possible without his wife and other “incredible individuals” that kept him on track.
Nair did return to Glaxo, fulfilling his first principle of honor and repaying Catterall for all his support before moving to the commercial side of biotechnology at Caliper Life Sciences.
It was a decade of on-the-job learning — first as a business development executive and, later, vice president of global marketing and sales. Pushing the self-teaching bar yet again, Nair shifted to the mission-driven nonprofit space. He joined The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) as associate general manager of product development, marketing, sales and customer service. JAX’s focus on genomics, animal models and basic research stretched Nair beyond what he previously knew.
“I always found that I like things to be just a tad out of my reach — just beyond the fingertips,” he says. “That makes me feel good.”
Apparently, others felt just as good about him. Nair rose to executive vice president of JAX and president of JAX Mice Clinical and Research Services, rapidly building the business through innovation and accelerating revenue growth as he went. By the time Nair left JAX in 2022, he’d transformed the organization, grown revenues seven-fold and profit margins by 10-fold.
“I can say with my hand on my heart that I left JAX a better place than I found it,” he says. “It feels good to be able to say that.”
Now, as a partner at Digitalis Ventures, Nair combines a lifetime of biotech experience — scientific understanding, strategic and operational management, commercialization and value creation — to foster new life sciences companies.
“One of the greatest lotteries in life is where you’re born,” Nair says. He always felt he’d won the jackpot with his kind and loving family. When his elder sister passed away due to cancer, leaving him as the sole survivor of his nuclear family, he was profoundly impacted. But that sorrow has affirmed his perspective on the value of biomedical research.
Progress against disease can’t happen without a global network of people striving to do good and uncover unknown biological truths. From mouse models and protein assays to clinical trials and drug development — it all funnels to a better future, one that promises more comprehensive treatment and fewer families hit with the premature loss of a loved one.
“As many people, I’ve been touched by illnesses and diseases. It has given me a different degree of intimacy and appreciation of what a lack of success in biotechnology would mean,” he says. “It just makes this endeavor that much more immediate and meaningful.”
It also impressed the importance of dedicating energy to the causes in which he believes. IPI is one.
“We all have a finite amount of time and I think what IPI is doing is pretty incredible,” he says. “There’s a huge need here and I want to help in that.”Source: Auro Nair
Writer: Caitlin Faulds, email@example.com
The Institute for Protein Innovation is pioneering a new approach to scientific discovery and collaboration. As a nonprofit research institute, we provide the biomedical research community with synthetic antibodies and deep protein expertise, empowering scientists to explore fundamental biological processes and pinpoint new targets for therapeutic development. Our mission is to advance protein science to accelerate research and improve human health. For more information, visit proteininnovation.org or follow us on social media, @ipiproteins.