Pfizer‘s (NYSE:PFE) Icagen (Nasdaq:ICGN) acquisition has yet to close but the talent exodus from the drug development company is already underway.

Mark Suto, Icagen’s vice president of chemical and pharmaceutical science, is leaving the Durham, N.C.-based company for the Southern Research Institute. Suto is been named vice president of the drug discovery division of the Birmingham, Ala. non-profit scientific research organization, whose work includes preclinical drug discovery and development.

Suto had worked at Icagen since 2004. The company, whose lead compounds are being developed as novel pain treatments, is being acquired by Pfizer for $56 million. That deal is expected to close by the end of 2011.

Besides his work at Icagen, Suto’s experience includes executive and management roles at California biotech company Neurion Pharmaceuticals, DuPont Pharmaceuticals and Deltagen Research Laboratories. Suto’s work Southern Research will include discovering new therapies for cancer, infectious diseases and neurological diseases and disorders.

“He will bring new energy to Southern Research at a time when our clients need help in expanding their drug candidate pipelines, and when we are investing internal research dollars into developing our own proprietary technologies,” Southern Research President and CEO Jack Secrist said in a prepared statement.

Suto earned his doctorate and his bachelor’s degree in Medicinal Chemistry from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

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