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Translational Science Expert, Dr. Melissa Ashlock, Joins aTyr Pharma to Advance Physiocrine-based Therapeutics

SAN DIEGO, May 18, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- aTyr Pharma, an innovative protein therapeutics company, announced today that Melissa Ashlock, M.D., has joined as vice president, external scientific alliances and human genetics. Dr. Ashlock's experience in translating novel biology into drug discovery opportunities and collaborations will support the aTyr team in the development of innovative therapeutic approaches for Physiocrine-based medicines. Physiocrines are naturally occurring human proteins that possess novel in vivo biological activity as extracellular signaling molecules in known pathways relevant to developing protein therapeutics for a range of diseases.

Dr. John Mendlein, executive chairman of aTyr Pharma, said, "Dr. Ashlock's ability to advance new therapeutic applications from novel mechanisms will provide important insights as aTyr develops life-changing medicines for patients with grave conditions. Our opportunity at aTyr is to uncover the role of Physiocrines in modulating human physiology and intervening in disease, and we are excited to have Dr. Ashlock help us lead this effort."

"Through her previous leadership efforts in diseases like cystic fibrosis, Dr. Ashlock has demonstrated her ability to develop pivotal alliances and advance drug discovery processes to create potential high-value therapeutic candidates," said Dr. Jeff Watkins, CEO of aTyr Pharma. "The development of Physiocrine-based protein therapeutics is distinct from current protein therapeutic programs, and Dr. Ashlock's experience will be of great help as we create much-needed new medicines for breakthroughs in patient care."

Dr. Ashlock added, "Physiocrine protein pathways represent important new therapeutic intervention points for drug discovery. Genomics efforts have missed aminoacyl tRNA synthetases as a source of extracellular signaling molecules and the relevance of these proteins in therapeutics development has been overlooked. aTyr possesses a unique opportunity to treat grave diseases with innovative, high impact biologics. It is an honor to join such an outstanding scientific team to execute on their important mission."

Dr. Ashlock has recently served pharmaceutical companies and non-profit organizations to advance new drug discovery and development opportunities for unmet medical needs.  Since 1999, she has been involved with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF), holding positions including vice president of drug discovery for its therapeutics affiliate, CFFT, and was part of the leadership team that helped transform cystic fibrosis (CF) venture philanthropy, a concept stemming from the visionary President and CEO Robert Beall, Ph.D. Dr. Ashlock also led the CFF's collaborative efforts to discover and develop drugs that addressed the basic defect in CF, including working with Vertex Pharmaceuticals on VX-770 and other approaches under investigation. Prior to CFF, she worked as a scientific investigator at the National Institutes of Health with Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., co-discoverer of the cystic fibrosis gene and Ron Crystal, M.D., a pioneer in gene therapy. She has been co-inventor or author of more than 50 issued patents and publications. She received her B.S. in biochemistry from Purdue University and her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College. She completed her medical residency at Dartmouth Medical School and is a licensed physician, board certified in adult internal medicine.

About Physiocrines

Physiocrines are derived from aminoacyl tRNA synthetases, which have been known for decades to function intracellularly in protein synthesis. Overlooked by genomic discovery efforts, Physiocrinesare extracellular proteins that modulate signaling pathways in a variety of physiological processes. These endogenous human proteins act through a variety of receptor classes via mechanisms distinct from current pharmaceuticals, and have potential applications in a number of therapeutic areas ranging from hematology and immunology, to metabolism disorders.

About aTyr Pharma

aTyr Pharma develops biologic therapeutics based on Physiocrines and is currently focusing on developing products for hematologic, immune, and metabolic indications. aTyr has established a dominant intellectual property estate surrounding Physiocrine-based compositions and potential therapeutic applications. The company's lead program, Tmax, is in preclinical development. The privately held biotech was founded by Scripps Research Institute Professor Paul Schimmel, a leading aminoacyl tRNA synthetase scientist, and is backed by leading life sciences investors Alta Partners, Cardinal Partners, Domain Associates and Polaris Ventures. For more information, please visit

SOURCE aTyr Pharma
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