Wells named a fellow of National Academy of Inventors

James Wells, PhD, whose pioneering innovations in protein engineering and technologies to identify small molecules to aid in drug discovery have yielded more than 60 patents, launched three companies, and created two UCSF technology centers, has been elected as a fellow to the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

The NAI is a non-profit member organization aimed at honoring academic invention. The fellow status is “accorded to academic inventors who have demonstrated a highly prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.”

Wells serves as chair of the School’s Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and has held the School’s Harry Wm. and Diana V. Hind Distinguished Professorship in Pharmaceutical Sciences since 2005.

Wells is founder and director of the department-based Small Molecule Discovery Center, which provides academic and industry researchers access to technology and expertise for high-throughput screening and chemical optimization of small molecules as probes of biological function and potential drug leads.

He is also a founding member of the Recombinant Antibody Network, a consortium of technology centers, including the UCSF Antibiome Center, developing an automated pipeline to generate antibodies to human protein targets for therapeutic use, including cancer therapies and infectious disease control, as well as to advance biomedical discovery.

Before coming to UCSF, Wells was a founding member of Genentech’s protein engineering department, which developed key technologies for stably altering protein function and performed some of the first experiments redesigning enzymes with added functions, enabling them to probe and discover biological mechanisms underlying disease.

He was then co-founder, president, and chief scientific officer of Sunesis Pharmaceuticals, where he co-invented Tethering, a technology that supports fragment-based drug discovery—an approach that screens pieces of small molecules for binding against protein targets, then combines them to generate drug leads. Wells also co-founded Calithera Biosciences and most recently, Warp Drive Bio, both now developing new cancer therapies.

Over the years, his work’s innovative methods and the bio-molecular insights they yielded led to several protein engineered products sold today by Genentech, Genencor, and Pfizer.

Researchers in the Wells Lab primarily engineer enzymes and small molecules to probe key protein interactions and signaling pathways in apoptosis, the programmed self-destruction of aberrant cells that fails to occur in cancers and inflammatory diseases and over-occurs in neurodegenerative diseases. Lab scientists develop new technologies to provide the basis for more effective and precisely targeted treatments.

Wells joins department and faculty colleagues Charles S. Craik, PhD, and William DeGrado, PhD, who were previously named NAI fellows. The 168 newly elected fellows will be formally inducted on April 15, 2016, as part of the Fifth Annual Conference of the National Academy of Inventors at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia.


13 UC innovators elected to the National Academy of Inventors


School of Pharmacy, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, PharmD Degree Program

About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy aims to solve the most pressing health care problems and strives to ensure that each patient receives the safest, most effective treatments. Our discoveries seed the development of novel therapies, and our researchers consistently lead the nation in NIH funding. The School’s doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree program, with its unique emphasis on scientific thinking, prepares students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their field.