Dr. Christopher J. Roberts, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware recently shared insights on his upcoming keynote presentation " Expanding the Toolset of Models for Predicting Electrostatic Protein-Protein Interactions to Aid Candidate and Formulation Selection", to be delivered at the 9th Annual Rapid Methods to Assess Quality & Stability of Biologics conference at the Bioprocessing Summit in Boston.


Keynote Presentation: Expanding the Toolset of Models for Predicting Electrostatic Protein-Protein Interactions to Aid Candidate and Formulation Selection
Christopher J. Roberts, PhD, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware

Decisions regarding candidate selection for protein therapeutics needs to incorporate many factors.  One area that is challenging is the role of the surface charge distribution and the choice of solution conditions (e.g., pH, ionic strength).  This presentation focuses on a coarse-grained molecular simulation approach that allows for rapid selection of amino acid mutations to aid candidate selection, with a focus on monoclonal antibodies as test cases.

Q. I want to learn more about you. Did you always love science? What inspired you that got you into this field?

I became most interested in science and engineering in high school, based on encouragement at home, and energetic and open-minded teachers in chemistry and mathematics.  I was at a very small school, and the chemistry and math teachers had only limited resources.  They took their personal time to create opportunities for a few of us who were interested in pushing outside the curriculum. 

Q. What are major obstacles in your field of research and how is your lab tackling them?

There is a long-standing need for predictive methods to help with key decisions around the choice of protein candidates and formulation conditions for products.  Advances have been made but there remain many outstanding questions.  We are working to address those questions with both experimental and computational approaches.  Some of these are at the molecule level (e.g., which protein variants are most prone to instability issues), while others are at the “system” level but in the end, they need to be addressed together.

Q. How did covid affect your work?

We needed to shift our work efforts significantly, for example to pivot to more computational work than experimental for several months.  Like many labs, we were restricted in the population density in the labs and offices and had to think in terms of scheduling and logistics in new ways.  We also had to rethink how we kept in touch with each other and coordinated plans.

Q. What have you learned during the pandemic?

Many things, as I’m sure many people have.  From a science perspective, I would say a key thing has been to keep in contact and be adaptable and proactive with communicating within a team.  While that was considered “easy” before, we have to be more deliberate about it now.

Q. I am getting ready for my first hybrid event...what are you looking forward to as in person conferences return?

I am looking forward to more of those “random” connections that happen spontaneously, even if just someone coming up to you after a talk or at a coffee break.

Q. Why did you choose to speak at The Bioprocessing Summit?

This is a conference that is well attended by a mix of subject matter experts from industry, academia, and national labs.

Q. What can audience expect from your talk?

A mix of fundamental insights for protein aggregation and self-association, and some new methods that they could adopt for internal use.

Q. Do you have any message for your peers or any closing remarks?

Glad to see people as much as we can but understood that it will take some time to get back to full capacity.


Christopher J. RobertsChristopher J. Roberts, PhD, Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering, University of Delaware
Dr. Roberts is a Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the University of Delaware (UD), and the Associate Institute Director for the National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL). He also serves as the Director of the Biomolecular Interaction Technologies Center (BITC) and the Director of the Center for Biomanufacturing Science and Technology (CBST) at UD. He received a Bachelor of Chemical Engineering degree from UD, and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Princeton University. Prior to joining UD, he worked at Pfizer as a formulation scientist for protein and small molecule-based therapeutics. The research focus of the Roberts laboratory is on experimental and theoretical fundamentals and applications of protein physical and chemical stability to address questions of biopharmaceutical product design, stability, and manufacturing.