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Zhenjun Jack Diwu

ZHENJUN JACK DIWU

“Follow your passion, and you will always be happy”

A man of the sciences, Diwu is someone who can be termed as an entrepreneur, a leader and a changemaker. His life’s work is indicative of his irrevocable commitment and dedication to his trade. An intuitive leader and developer, Diwu has worked closely in the development of all the drugs and drug discovery tools launched by the companies that he founded or confounded. He has been instrumental in the company’s huge success and recognition. In the true sense, Diwu is the embodiment of a futuristic leader, a man with a vision and the capability to make a difference for the better. He is an active serial entrepreneur and a genius in chemistry. 

The inception of his career 

Zhenjun ‘Jack’ Diwu is the President and CEO of AAT Bioquest. He grew up in Xianyang, a small city close to Xi’an, the capital city of Shaanxi Province in China. Xianyang is situated on the north bank of the Wei River, about 12 miles northwest of Xi’an, in an area that was the cradle of early Chinese civilization. Its historical importance began with the Qin state. All of China was united under the Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE) for the first time in Chinese history. In the early years of his life, Diwu found himself inclined towards Chinese history, literature, and political science that were possibly related to the rich history of his birthplace. In his younger years, he was much more interested in subjects of the liberal arts rather than in science, which may have had as much to do with his natural curiosity as it did the larger cultural moment in which he grew up. The entire Chinese society ignored natural sciences at the time. His acumen for science and engineering started to evolve when Xiaoping Deng started his reform in China. After Deng implemented his reforms in the education sector around the late 1970s, he enrolled at Northwest University in Xian, China, and was assigned to the Department of Chemistry, even though he had a stronger interest in math and engineering. With his utmost faith in government, he decided to undertake what was assigned to him. Thus, he commenced his scientific career in chemistry. When he started his chemistry major with Northwest University in 1980, his natural lack of interest in the subject rendered him the poorest chemistry grades among all his classmates. After paying a lot more attention to the subject, he developed a liking and his grades steadily picked up.

By the time of his college graduation in 1984, he ranked among the top students in the batch. That same year, he enrolled in graduate school at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing. At this prestigious research institution, he had access to many resources that couldn’t be accessed at Northwest University. He dived deep into the study of the phototherapeutic mechanism of hyporcrellins, a group of natural pigments isolated from a fungus grown in Yunnan Province, China. Following the completion of his PhD program in 1988, he wanted to continue this research and sought out a postdoctoral position with William Lown at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. They pioneered the phototherapeutic drug discovery program with the natural pigment “hypocrellin” by collaborating with the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. A pharmaceutical company, SonoLight Pharmaceutical, was formed based on this research, to further explore the commercial potential of the light-activated or ultrasound-activated anticancer and anti-HIV applications of hypocrellins. Later, SonoLight merged with Alta Pharma to form Quest Pharmaceuticals, which is still actively exploring the various applications of hypocrellin and its derivatives for anticancer, antiviral, and cosmetic
applications.

In 1993, he decided to join Molecular Probes that was founded by Richard Haugland, the well-recognized pioneer in the fluorescence technology field. Dr. Haugland’s immense knowledge and passion for science deeply impressed and influenced Dr. Diwu. He had numerous opportunities to exchange ideas and discuss research projects with Dr. Haugland all the time until 2000. In 1996, Nobel laureate Roger Tsien visited Molecular Probes and gave a lecture on fluorescent probes and their applications. He was lucky to have dinner with Dr. Tsien, who mentioned the story of Fluo-3 discovery. Zhenjun was charmed by Tsien’s brilliant idea to invent Fluo-3 based on the prototype calcium probe, EGTA. Since then,Dr. Diwu has had a strong interest in developing fluorescent probes for monitoring and detecting calcium ions in live cells. In 2000, he left Molecular Probes to join Molecular Devices, after becoming interested in the company’s calcium detection-dedicated FLIPR instrument. At the time, it was the only
instrument that could kinetically read calcium signals in a high throughput mode thanks to its unique liquid handling and fast reading capability. His strong interest in learning the integration of fluorescence detection reagents and systems landed him a job opportunity at
Molecular Devices. There, he worked with a team of like-minded individuals and they successfully developed the first generation of FLIPR calcium assay kits for the high throughput screening (HTS) market. These products had quickly become the gold standard in the HTS market for developing GPCR-targeted new drugs. In 2006, he took a leap as he co-founded AAT Bioquest, a small biotech company. A company that has strived to innovate and push the boundaries of assay technology. Today, they love to see their products being used to advance scientific research. Their research and development in calcium detection is a great example. Influenced by Dr. Tsien’s talk at Molecular Probes, he has been passionate about improving calcium detection by providing more effective tools to scientists since calcium detection is essential for cellular
communications and signal transduction.

By AAT Bioquest’s second year in operation, they had introduced their first calcium product, Fluo-8®. Following the early success of Fluo-8, they introduced the follow-up calcium detection products, Cal-520® and Calbryte™-520 that have far superior properties than the earlier calcium dyes such as Fluo-3 and Fluo-4. AAT Bioquest is investing more than half of its revenue back to research projects and become one of the leading biotech companies that provide enabling tools to advance life science research, diagnostics and drug discovery. AAT Bioquest- Redefining medical solutions AAT Bioquest is a well-recognized leader in the markets it serves, including cell analysis, immunology, molecular biology and high throughput screening. Fluo-8®, Cal-520® and Calbryte™ have become indispensable tools for analyzing intracellular calcium ion signals in real-time in live cells. Calcium ion and cAMP are the two most important messenger molecules for cell signalling. AAT Bioquest has recently introduced the most sensitive fluorescence imaging technology (Power Signal Amplification™, or PSA™) that made some rarely expressed receptors possible detected for the first time. The company offers the largest and most completed product portfolio for analyzing cellular functions, including cell viability, proliferation, apoptosis and necrosis. Its secondary detection product line is also ranked as one of the best offerings for immunological tests. Its ROXtra fluorescence calibration standards and StrandBrite™ RNA quantification have become important tools for performing PCR tests and developing tools to fight the pandemic. Their Screen Quest™ high throughput screening kits are well known and used by most of the drug discovery labs worldwide. 

Aims and Ideals

Zhenjun has always held onto one simple vision as he leads AAT Bioquest. That is, to provide quality solutions for researchers in the life sciences. He believes that a company’s integrity is its core, as well as its key to longstanding sustainability. That is why they are dedicated to consistently improving customer experience, from initial contact to point of sales to technical follow up. The desire to anticipate, meet, and exceed their customers’ expectations has been, and always will be, their number one priority.

Their uniqueness in the market

Their unique, integrative approach to assay development draws from all fields of study, from chemistry to biology to informatics and more, leading to a wave of new generation photometric probes that utilize colorimetric, fluorimetric and luminescent technologies. With a team of passionate scientists and experts, AAT Bioquest seeks to address some of the most challenging problems faced in life science research, diagnostic R&D and drug discovery. Employing a strong network of experienced and professional distributors across the globe, they provide superior products and customized services to a diverse portfolio of clients spanning from small research institutions to Fortune 500 companies.

Responding to the Covid-19 challenges

Hundreds of millions of people have faced Covid-19 test problems in real-time. Both the good tests and therapeutic solutions must come from and be supported by the life science research tools. Biological detection is the core business of AAT Bioquest. Solving the test problems would provide an opportunity to demonstrate the value of their innovative products. The ROXtra fluorescence calibration standards and StrandBrite™ RNA quantification have become important tools for eliminating some bottleneck problems with some PCR-based Covid-19 tests. AAT Bioquest is known for its speed in innovations. During the pandemic, AAT Bioquest successfully introduced its serial Covidyte™ new drug screening tools that are now used in several high throughout screening labs to search new medications for curing Covid-19 patients.

His Advice to Gen-Z entrepreneurs Throughout his career, he has always followed his passions. His primary advice to young scientists is to do the same. He believes that if you are interested in what you do and passionate about your projects, you always feel energetic and actively pursue them with a great chance to succeed. No matter what results in you get, you will always feel happy. If there is a better opportunity, do a good analysis before you make your final decision. There is nothing wrong with changing direction or making some adjustments as long as you are well prepared