Biotech drug therapy company Viral Genetics, Inc., has appointed biofuel specialist John Sheehan to its advisory board. Viral Genetics lead scientist Dr. M. Karen Newell discovered a method of increasing the amount of oil produced by algae while researching a cancer drug.

Newell recently received a $750,000 grant to expand research into developing plant-based fuels. Viral Genetics has the exclusive right to develop commercial applications for this technology.

Our team believes through preliminary work that we have uncovered a possible lipid trigger that dramatically increases oil yields in plants.

—Dr. Newell

Sheehan will provide leadership as the company develops alliances in the energy industry to accelerate the process of moving its biofuel technology forward.

Sheehan has spent nearly two decades working on biofuels, including coordinating biofuel research at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and consulting to clients in biotechnology and renewable energy under the auspices of SheehanBoyce, LLC. He has served as the vice president of strategic planning and sustainable development at LiveFuels, Inc., an algae startup company in Menlo Park, Calif.

For 17 years, he worked as a project manager and analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, where he led research on the production and conversion of algae to biofuels. Prior to NREL, Sheehan worked as a biochemical engineer at Merck Pharmaceutical, W.R. Grace & Co, and Radian Corporation.

Viral Genetics is in the right place at the right time with this technology. Identifying and controlling the trigger for lipid production in algae has long been the holy grail of algal biofuels technology. Many big players are working in this field, and whoever is first to translate such a discovery into an economic process will leap frog to the front of the pack.

—John Sheehan

San Marino, California-based Viral Genetics discovers drug therapies. Founded in 2000, the biotech company is researching treatments for HIV/AIDS, Lyme Disease, Strep, Staph and drug resistant tumors.