Advancing Health Care Through Molecular Science

Since earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in molecular biochemistry and biophysics through the Accelerated Master’s Program at Illinois Institute of Technology in 2019, alumnus William Menzer has continued his education as a Ph.D. student at the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular Life Sciences in Munich. There, he works as a member of a research group led by Andreas Ladurner, a professor of physiological chemistry.

“I work primarily as a structural biologist and biochemist seeking to unveil some of the mystery behind how carbohydrate metabolism relates to gene expression,” Menzer says.

Menzer’s research with Ladurner is focused on a protein called the carbohydrate response element binding protein (ChREBP), which helps the body synthesize fats.

“ChREBP directs your cells to turn sugar into fat when sugars are present,” he says. “This has far-reaching implications in the clinic, since it has been shown that reduced amounts of ChREBP correlate with insulin resistance and the development of pre-diabetes. Understanding how ChREBP works could help with the treatment of diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”

Menzer also holds a part-time job at Eisbach Bio, a biotechnology startup where he is working as both a computational chemist and medicinal chemist helping to drive the synthesis of new lead compounds. He has filed three patents with Eisbach, one of which is for a molecule he designed in support of a novel cancer therapeutic that the company believes could help 20 percent of cancer patients or more.

“At Eisbach we develop small molecules to inhibit enzymes critical for tumor cells, but not healthy tissues,”Menzer says. “We are looking to enter clinical trials [for the cancer therapeutic] in mid-to-late 2022.”

Menzer’s second patented project involves his team’s development of two kinds of small molecules that inhibit an element of COVID-19. The project will enter its first phase of clinical trials in mid 2022.

“[We believe] that we could develop a therapy that would be effective regardless of the variant and potentially even for other coronaviruses,” Menzer says.

A native of the Chicago suburbs, Menzer worked closely with Robert E. Frey Jr. Endowed Chair in Chemistry David Minh and Associate Professor of Biology Oscar Juarez as a student at Illinois Tech. He co-authored two papers on methods development in computational chemistry with Minh, and three papers on biochemistry and enzymology with Juarez.

“[Minh and Juarez] were a large part of my experience at Illinois Tech, and helped shape me as a student, researcher, and person,” Menzer says. “Their guidance provided me with great opportunity, and my current success is a direct result of their mentorship.”