Monday, September 26, 2016

Focus on Women Innovators in Boston Biotech: Dr. Rosana Kapeller & Alison Silva

Last month we blogged about five women to watch in Boston biotech and got an incredible response. In a country where less than five percent of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are female it's good to know that women in leadership is such a popular topic. Or perhaps our blog was popular because the Boston area women we profiled are making international biotech news, regardless of their gender. This month - as we gear up for our first ever Biotech Week Boston where we celebrate biotech innovation in the Boston area and around the Globe - we'd like to take a look at two more women innovators in the Boston area. This time we posed the questions: "Why are there so many women innovators in the Boston area" and "Why do women-founded startups perform better than all male ones?"


Dr. Rosana Kapeller, CSO Nimbus Discovery and Scientific Advisor, Atlas Venture

Innovator is a very fitting way to describe Dr. Rosana Kapeller, the Chief Scientific Officer at Nimbus Discovery and scientific advisor to Atlas Venture. Why fitting? Well first of all the very work that her company Nimbus Discovery does is at the cutting edge of biotech. Luke Timmerman recently described Nimbus' work as "changing the fundamental mode of drug discovery".  Dr. Kapeller also has taken it upon herself to do a research study to draw attention to the small number of women executives represented in biotech. Kapeller reported the stats she uncovered in an article for Life Science VC last fall called Biotech Circa 2015 AD: Where Are the Women? Even in the most innovative small biotech companies, Kapeller found that just 8% of board members were female. Kapeller also uncovered the fact that only 10% of CEOs were women.

Alison Silva, President & Director, Critical Outcome Technologies and Co-Founder, The Orphan Group

Do a search for Critical Outcome Technologies (COTI) and you won't find local press buzzing about them just yet, but newly appointed Director of COTI and President of Synlogic Therapeutics Bharatt Chowrira made sure to let us know that is about to change: "Although COTI may not be a household name in the Boston Biotech area, it's just a matter of time with Alison Silva at the helm!" President and Director of COTI, Silva was a co-founder and COO of Chowrira's company Synlogic.


What Critical Outcome Technologies is doing is quite ground-breaking; they use computer science and machine learning to develop drugs. Their CEO Wayne Danter described what they do to Canada's Financial Post: "So that much of what the traditional drug discovery process would do occurs in a wet lab and is very expensive; most of our work initially is done in computer simulations so that we’re able to develop candidates very quickly."

Biotech Week Boston spoke with both Dr. Rosana Kapeller and Alison Silva to ask them what they thought about women and innovation, here's what transpired:

Biotech Week Boston: "Although women are only 5% of the Fortune 500 CEOs, there are a great deal of women leaders in Boston biotech. Do you have any thoughts on why that is the case?"

Alison Silva: "I believe innovation is fundamental to any successful biotech venture, and Metro Boston is an innovation hub. Biotech in Boston fosters merit based, gender neutral advancement, so women who are innate motivators and leaders tend to gravitate and thrive here. The combination provides a natural environment for women to be leaders in the biotech sector. On a personal level, as someone who has worked for both start-up and Fortune 100 companies, I feel more natural in a smaller, face paced growth environment where my passion for diversity and opportunity is most embraced.

In discussing this topic with colleagues, spurred on by the recent appointment of Emma Walmsley as GSK’s new Chief, some at the table wonder why these positions receive press focused on gender and not purely the merit that these women clearly possess being placed in such significant positions. It’s a point made in support of the growth of the meager 5%, when it’s clear by female leaders whose footsteps we are following in, that the path is becoming more defined, accepted and most importantly appreciated. I argue that is still comes down to balance and choice. Women may have the desire to take their careers to a certain professional level, however may not be willing to fully accept the lifestyle choices of, in the case of this question, a Fortune 500 CEO-ship. I believe and am hopefully optimistic that we are entering an era during which some of the extraneous and self-imposed demands are being pressure tested and companies are diligent in finding balance for all of their employees."

Dr. Rosana Kapeller: "I am not so sure this statement is completely correct. Although women CEOs in biotech comprise more than 5% as compared to Fortune 500 CEOs (About 10% +/- 4% depending on the year), they are still the minority. What you see in biotech though is an increase in women in leadership positions mostly as CSOs and CMOs, which I find quite interesting (could these be considered “soft areas”?)  According to my own research, which is supported by a broader and more robust research by Liftstream, here are the numbers: Women comprise about 26% of all leadership positions in Biotech; 17% CSOs, 24% CMOs as compared to 10% CEOs and COOs. CFOs and CBOs fall in between CSOs and CMOs numbers.

I think the higher number of women CMOs reflects what is happening in medicine overall, where more women and less men are enrolling into medical schools, since medicine is no longer a career of choice for men. On the positive side, I think the increase in the number of women in leadership positions in biotech is due to several factors. It reflects the overall increase in the numbers of women in the biotech workforce. There an increase in women role models: this is the first time in the industry that women can emulate other women who got there before them. Before this generation of women, they needed to emulate their male counterparts to “make it". I am part of the “transition” generation and have seen an increase in the number of women leaders that I can emulate towards the later part of my career.

Women are making it into leadership positions due to the support these women are receiving from trailblazers like Vicki Sato (former President of Vertex and currently a Professor at Harvard Business school), Deborah Dunsire (formerly CEO of Millennium and Forum), and Carol Gallagher (formerly CEO of Calistoga and now a partner at NEA), just to name a few. I firmly believe in ‘like hires like'.

Lastly, men are starting to appreciate what women bring to the table and feel less uncomfortable with the differences in leadership and management styles. I think in the next 5-10 years we will continue to see an increase in women in leadership positions in biotech, and we will eventually see it leveling off between 30-40%. You may ask, why not 50%, since women comprise 50% of the population? To be honest and this is my personal opinion, women may not be willing to put up with all the “pressure" required to be a CEO. And I am not talking about the hard work, innovation, team building, financing etc. I am talking about the amount of time one has to spend playing the politics of the job. And, whatever happens in the workforce women still do most of work/worrying on the home front. So when you put these two pieces together, you may find that it is a life choice, not a career choice and women may opt out of it." 

Biotech Week Boston: "Startups with at least one female founder perform better, do you know why that may be the case?"

Alison Silva: "I have seen many women, many friends, thrive in a start-up environment - a dynamic stage where strong organizational skills, adaptability and an ability to be fearless yet pragmatic are critical success factors. The intensity of this pace lends itself well to leaders with inherent multi-tasking skills, a collaborative nature and an instinctive drive to motivate others. These are common, foundational traits in many women and they are infinitely synergistic to a start-up environment. Additionally, I believe a fundamental success factor in the early days of a start-up is the corporate culture, which must be designed upfront and consistently nurtured to breed creativity, productivity, direction and camaraderie. Tying all of these aspects together within a small team is a challenging task, and I believe many of our female leaders in biotech have a unique understanding of what it takes to bring out the best in their team and make the endeavor successful."

Dr. Rosana Kapeller: "Yes, it is all about PEOPLE. This is what make companies succeed or fail. Women in principle are more collaborative and caring. They have a knack for recruiting and retaining talent as, most women, are willing to make the effort of understanding the different needs of the team members. They can be incredible motivators, and at the same time require a level of commitment and integrity that serves the company well. They are cheer leaders by nature. They are more willing to hire a “diverse” work force… find the best person for the job regardless of gender, race, etc. They are not afraid to make decisions, but consider all the angles before making a hasty decision. They can play the “contrarian” and will often have a different view of the needs of the company and elicit a conversation. A woman will not be another “yes man” and that is very beneficial in leadership teams. Of course this is a generalization and there are exceptions to the rules, but overall I find this to be the case.

Women are as good as men in innovation. Not sure why men are thought to be more innovative then women. I always worked on cutting edge science and so do most of my female counterparts. I think this is still an unconscious bias. Two of my favorite current innovators are Jennifer Doudna and Sangeeta Bhatia. Of course we can also go back to Marie Curie, Rita Levi-Montalcini and Rosalind Franklin..."

Interested in learning more about the experiences of women in biotech leadership? Join us at the Women's Executive Leadership Dinner which will feature Susan Windham-Bannister, President and CEO Biomedical Growth Strategies and Christina Bodurow, Ph.D., Senior Director, External Sourcing Medicines Development, Lilly.

Biotech Week Boston is a hub for life sciences, technology, and business and fosters cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration to break down silos and spark change. Biotech Week Boston will showcase the most comprehensive science and innovative technologies while fostering partnerships to unlock the full potential of what science and business can achieve. Learn more by clicking the link below.





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Monday, September 19, 2016

What President Clinton or President Trump Will Mean for Biotech and Pharma

This past June, a STAT news article described the current presidential race as between a "policy wonk and a 'black box'" in other words Clinton's track record shows somewhat elaborate strategies that haven't always been successful while Trumps' views on biotech are "an almost complete mystery". Of the two Clinton is probably perceived at the most knowledgeable in regards to the biotech industry, STAT wrote: "Even Clinton’s conservative critics don’t doubt her knowledge — but they object to her proposed solutions, including her plan to crack down on drug prices, which they say fails to appreciate the financial risks biotech investors have to take." Regardless of Clinton's reputation of cracking down on drug prices, Boston Business Journal has reported that the majority of political contributions from biotech executives in the Boston area have been for Clinton (not a big surprise in a blue state).



Get an expert, up-to-the-minute view on what Clinton and Trump will mean for biotech and pharma at Biotech Week Boston's STAT Panel Discussion: President Clinton or President Trump: What Our Next President Will Mean For Biotech and Pharma this October. This panel will feature: Rick Berke, Executive Editor of STAT; Dylan Scott, Washington Correspondent at STAT; Damien Garde, National Biotech Reporter at STAT; Mason Tenaglia, Vice President at IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics; David Meeker, Executive Vice President and Head of Sanofi Genzyme; and Kathleen Weldon Tregoning, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs at Biogen.

For a sneak peak, here's what Mason Tenaglia, Vice President of IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics had to say in Pharmaceutical Executive about the challenges facing pharma from increased scrutiny due to the elections: “Due to the increased presence of pharmacy deductibles, patients are being exposed to the ‘raw, naked’ price of mainstream drugs like insulins, LABA, DPP4, and others.” This leads to the situation where “the pharmacy passes these on at ‘full price’ when the payer probably is getting a 40% rebate,”... 2016 “might be the year when all pricing heuristics disappear and pharma companies lower their list prices for new launches while holding back on rebates to the payers.”





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Monday, September 12, 2016

Top 5 Ways to Innovate in Biotech

Everyone likes to talk about innovation, but how can you stop simply talking about and start driving real innovation in biotech? We looked at some of the most ground-breaking, silo-busting movers and shakers around to bring you the "Top 5 Ways to Innovate in Biotech".


  • #1 Diversity is not just good business, it makes for good science. People who grew up in the same parts of a country and went to similar schools often have comparable approaches to solving problems. As such, homogeneous groups of these individuals tend to get stuck on problems at the same point. Diverse teams, in contrast, come at problems from lots of different angles, enabling them to find creative solutions. Jeffrey Karp, Principal Investigator and Founder of Karp Lab populates his clinic with scientists from around the world: “We’ve had people from over thirty different countries,” he said. “I think this has been important because people in different places, they have different ways of thinking, different ways of solving problems.”
  • #2 Hire Outside the Life Sciences. Traditionally distinct disciplines such as engineering, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, physics and the life sciences are increasingly coming together to advance the management and prevention of disease in the US. Tufts Allen Discovery Center, UCSF, Caltech, U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ICES at U Texas at Austin, Carnegie Mellon and U Pittsburgh, Johns Hopkins Biomedical Engineering, Duke and U of Michigan, The Wyss and the Broad Institutes are examples of organizations combining either elements of computer science or engineering with the life sciences into their various programs. Jeffrey Karp of Cambridge’s Karp Lab has worked with heart surgeons, mechanical engineers, polymer chemists, and a fiber optics expert. Karp creates an environment designed to make the most of everyone’s capabilities, specifically by minimizing overlap in expertise. “When people get together to brainstorm, everybody can bring something unique,” Karp said. “Everybody feels validated, everybody’s motivated because they’re the only ones who can bring that particular perspective or expertise.”
  • #3 Balance competitiveness with valuable data sharing. Stacy Springs, Biomanufacturing Program (BioMAN) and executive director of the Consortium on Adventitious Agent Contamination in Biomanufacturing (CAACB) at the MIT Center for Biomedical Innovation (CBI), has the recipe for successful collaboration between industry, government and academia when it comes to biotech: “truth, transparency, and trust. Setting the ground rules and understanding how you want to work together is definitely very helpful.” CAACB brings together more than 20 leading drug product and equipment companies, such as Amgen, Biogen, Genentech, and Sanofi Pasteur, to gather confidential information on viral contamination. Such contaminations are too rare for any individual company to have enough data to develop best practices, but, by pooling resources at the neutral forum of MIT CBI, companies can learn from their collective experience.
  • #4 Go outside science for your brain trust. When Kristin Ardlie’s team at Broad Institute’s Genotype-Expression Program (GTEx) was formed, there simply weren’t enough samples for the breadth and scale of the sequencing program envisaged for that organization. They realized they needed to look into sourcing samples from people who had died recently to alleviate their tissue supply bottleneck. But this created a whole new set of ethical and legal questions. So what did GTEx do? GTEx established a separate wing of ethical and legal experts. Not only did this solve the issue of having enough samples, it also turned GTEx into an unusually broad, multidisciplinary initiative that, through an ethical, legal, and, social issue substudy, has driven advances in fields far beyond genetics. Notably, the substudy has supported the development of best practices and training resources for people who have to ask grieving families to donate tissues. It has created an invaluable dialogue between biospecimen specialists, ethicists, geneticists, and the families of donors. GTEx has also opened up the data to scientists outside of the consortium and holding outreach meetings with the wider community. Through these and as-yet-unstarted analyses, the data derived from years of work and sacrifice by the families of donors, ethicists, legal experts, biospecimen specialists, geneticists, and others will continue to yield scientific discoveries.
  • #5 Get your superhero on. Sometimes it takes a far-fetched idea to solve a problem; a picture of Spiderman in an article on a colleagues’ desk at MIT gave Jeffrey Karp of Karp Lab the wild idea to develop a surgical patch that was degradable, elastic and transparent (inspired by Spiderman's sticky hands and a gecko's sticky feet). Karp Lab has used everything from porcupine quills to jellyfish tentacles as the basis for a breakthrough. From Karp Lab’s bioinspiration to recent discoveries about the microbiome and advances in T-Cell therapy, the jury is out on whether future generations will look back on the 21st century as a time of technological advances or a time when science brought us closer to harnessing the innate power of our own bodies as well as those of the natural world. 

We hope you enjoyed our Top 5 List! We are proud to say that three innovators featured in this Top 5 article will be speaking at Biotech Week Boston this October 2016. You can catch up with Jeffrey Karp’s newest discoveries and research at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids". Stacy Springs will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics at the Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition. And Kristin Ardlie will discuss GTEx Data and Analysis at Biorepositories and Sample Management.

We also invite you to download “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs" to get more detailed information on the types of innovations Ardlie, Karp and Springs are working on. The report is free and no email address or registration is required - so go ahead and share the link!



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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

INFOGRAPHIC: The Convergence Transforming Medicine

We at Biotech Week Boston are excited about a new era of biotech convergence that we're in right now. More and more labs are inviting what were once considered strange bedfellows - computer scientists, engineers, chemists, physicists, life scientists and others - to come together in the quest for novel ways to fight illness. We’ve created an infographic on this phenomenon, inspired by work done by MIT's convergence research as well as our new report: Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs.



We hope you enjoy our infographic. We are proud to say three innovators featured in this infographic will be speaking at Biotech Week Boston this October 2016. You can catch up with Jeffrey Karp’s newest discoveries and research at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids". Stacy Springs will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics at the Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition. And Kristin Ardlie will discuss discuss the newest GTEx Data and Analysis at Biorepositories and Sample Management.

We invite you to download our infographic. It's free and no email address or registration is required.



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Thursday, September 1, 2016

New Report: Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs

The area in and around Boston, Massachusetts is as dense with world-renowned scientific experts as anywhere on earth. Here, in an area a little larger than one square mile, researchers from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a multitude of biotechs and Big Pharmas are driving the evolution of the technology and business of science. In doing so, research teams are increasingly looking to share data, research, and ideas.

Download the Report

Collaboration has always been key to science, but, as researchers have taken on ever-more complex projects, the need to work with people from different disciplines, backgrounds, and organizations has increased. Such collaborations run counter to the secretive, ego-driven, or financially-motivated sides of science, but have nonetheless taken root, even in for-profit fields, as organizations have realized the value of expanding the breadth of their internal expertise while looking outside of their walls for collaborators. We at Biotech Week Boston are excited by the possibilities that this new era of collaboration can bring to biotech. We’ve asked writer Nick Paul Taylor (Nature, Fierce Biotech, Regulatory Focus) to report on several innovators who are contributing to this convergence of disciplines and ideas here in Boston.

In this report, Nick looks at three people: "who have embraced the collaborative, multidisciplinary ethos and, in doing so, have influenced science, business, and the lives of patients to a far-greater degree than would have been possible through an isolationist approach. Their goals are diverse. One is working to improve drug availability in low and middle-income countries through the advance of biomanufacturing. Another is looking to nature for answers to biomedical problems that blight the lives of patients. Our third is coordinating a global campaign to unlock the secrets of the genome."

Nick continues: "What links the three researchers is not the type of science they do, but the way they do it. Each is an example of what scientists, particularly in hotspots such as Boston, can achieve when they are open to the sharing of data, research, and ideas."

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. We are proud to say that all three innovators featured in this report will be speaking at Biotech Week Boston this October 2016. You can catch up with Jeffrey Karp’s newest discoveries and research at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids". Stacy Springs will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics at the Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition. And Kristin Ardlie will discuss discuss GTEx Data and Analysis at Biorepositories and Sample Management.

We invite you to download “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs.” The report is free and no email address or registration is required - so go ahead and share the link!



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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

From bench to bedside: Stacy Springs and the BioMAN program connect theoretical concepts to real world application

In 1978, there were just 30 patents granted for biopharmaceuticals. Now biologic drugs make up more than 28% of all pharmaceutical sales - $41.7 billion in 2013. MIT CBI’s BioMAN program is focused on translating all of the research into successful manufacturing, so theoretical concepts can be turned into real world applications. They do this by bringing together thought leaders from across the biopharmaceutical industry including manufacturers, vendors, the FDA and academia. They also leverage the MIT research they have access to in order to advance new technologies as well as assess the global landscape.

Stacy Springs


This year MIT put out a report called “Convergence: The Future of Health” which states: “Convergence comes as a result of the sharing of methods and ideas by chemists, physicists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and life scientists across multiple fields and industries…it needs to be applied to help solve many of the world’s grand challenges.” To that we can add - as scientific discoveries progress collaboration between the academic world, the government and manufacturers is key to solving these challenges. That is what BioMAN was set up to do.

We at Biotech Week Boston have asked writer Nick Paul Taylor (Nature, Fierce Biotech, Regulatory Focus) to report on several innovators who are contributing to this convergence of disciplines and institutional boundaries here in Boston, and Nick reports on the work Stacy Springs  is doing at BioMAN Institute. At BioMAN Stacy is the Director of the Biomanufacturing Program and Executive Director of the Consortium on Adventitious Agent Contamination in Biomanufacturing. We’re proud to feature her in our report “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs”. BioMAN “fosters a collaborative research environment that brings together thought leaders from industry, the government/FDA and academia.” Click to download and read about Stacy Springs and MIT’s CBI BioMAN program (no email address or registration is required).

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. You can catch up with Stacy Spring’s newest research at Biotech Week Boston's Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition event this October. Stacy will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics".





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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

How the Broad Institute’s GTEx uses a multidisciplinary approach to translate research into medicine

MIT’s new report “Convergence: The Future of Health” states: “Convergence comes as a result of the sharing of methods and ideas by chemists, physicists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and life scientists across multiple fields and industries. It is the integration of insights and approaches from historically distinct scientific and technological disciplines. Convergence is a broad effort across the sciences that will play a crucial role in many fields of endeavor. As noted above it needs to be applied to help solve many of the world’s grand challenges.”

We’ve asked writer Nick Paul Taylor (Nature, Fierce Biotech) to research several innovators who are contributing to a multidisciplinary convergence right here in Boston. The paper is entitled: "Convergence in Boston: How Multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench to bedside breakthroughs".

Kristin Ardlie


Nick reports on what the Broad Institute, specifically in their Genotype-Tissue Expression (GTEx) project, is contributing to understanding disease in their work with genomics. Genomics has, since its earliest days, been a multidisciplinary field. The sequencing, analyzing, and contextualizing of genomes necessitates the input of experts from a broad range of backgrounds. Nick spoke with Kristin Ardlie, Ph.D., the Senior Research Scientist, Director of GTEx at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The GTEx project started in 2010 “with the goal of creating a comprehensive atlas and open database of gene expression and gene regulation across human tissues.” Nick explores Kristin Ardlie and the Broad Institute’s work to discover how and why the field of genomics needs to draw on a diversity of skills and disciplines to handle the myriad of tasks involved in understanding inherited susceptibility to disease.

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. You can catch up with Kristin Ardlie and The Broad Institute’s Genotype-Tissue Expression projects newest research at Biotech Week Boston's Biorepositories and Sample Management event this October. Kristin will discuss GTEx Data and Analysis.





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Broad Institute's GTEx program ending, says Director

The GTEx Project has announced that “GTEx, in its current form, is nearing the end.” The GTEx Project was launched in 2010 to create a data resource and tissue bank for scientists to study how genomic variants may affect gene activity and disease susceptibility. GTEx was set up in response to a boom in genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and subsequent sharp increase in knowledge of the links between genetic variants and human diseases. On one level, knowledge of these variants marked a major advance in our understanding of the root causes of disease and, by extension, our ability to treat or prevent them. However, with most of the GWAS variants not coding for proteins, the molecular mechanisms through which they lead to the development of diseases were poorly understood. This is where GTEx came in.

Frequency Therapeutics Announces Clinical Trials for Hearing Loss


GTEx program may transition, in some form, into an international project 

Nick Paul Taylor recently interviewed Kristin Ardlie, director, biological samples platform at The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard where she made this exclusive announcement. Ardlie gave some indication of what might happen to the program. “There are several groups that would like to continue and expand the project and the sampling,” Ardlie said. “Our particular project won't be continuing, but there's a lot of interest in pushing a continued project forward, maybe internationally. We've had one meeting already.” announced Ardlie.

For the full interview with Ardlie download the complete report by journalist Nick Paul Taylor here: “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs”. No email or registration is required.

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. You can catch up with Kristin Ardlie and The Broad Institute’s Genotype-Tissue Expression projects newest research at Biotech Week Boston's Biorepositories and Sample Management event this October. Kristin’s will discuss GTEx Data and Analysis.





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Monday, August 29, 2016

MIT's BioMAN Announces Global Initiative

MIT's Center for Biomedical Innovation Program(BioMAN) has announced a new global health initiative. BioMAN’s mission is to “develop new knowledge, science, technologies and strategies that advance the manufacture and global delivery of high quality biopharmaceuticals”.

Frequency Therapeutics Announces Clinical Trials for Hearing Loss


Stacy Springs, who has been Director of the program since 2008, recently spoke with Nick Paul Taylor: “We have a new global health initiative that hasn't really been publicized yet,” Springs said. “It is very much focused on the different ways we need to think about ... making biologic medicines available and accessible to middle and low-income patients around the world.”

In discussions with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and PATH 

Stacy Springs elaborated on the initiative: “We certainly have been engaged in discussions with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with PATH, and others about our goals,” Springs said. The Gates Foundation is among the organizations already working to drive down the cost of manufacturing, but its focus is limited to drugs against its target diseases. Springs’ nascent initiative is broader in scope. It may, for example, look at ways to improve the availability of insulin around the world.

For the full interview with Springs download the complete report by journalist Nick Paul Taylor here: “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs”. No email or registration is required.

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. You can catch up with Stacy Spring’s newest research at Biotech Week Boston's Bioprocess International Conference and Exhibition event this October. Stacy will be on a panel entitled "Industry-Academia Collaboration in Translational Research and Biomanufacturing of Next Generation Biologics".





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Karp Lab: Biomedical Engineering and the Third Revolution in Biotech

In the past decade, several scholars, led by luminaries such as Nobel Prize winner Phillip Sharp, have been talking about how the Cambridge/Boston biotech area has been at the epicenter of a third revolution in biotech. The first revolution we can trace to the beginnings of molecular and cellular biology. The second was a genomics revolution (much of it happening in Cambridge/Boston) with Sharp’s discovery of RNA splicing in 1977 and his founding of Biogen in 1978. Now Sharp and others see a third biotech revolution in a movement which is bringing together disciplines once seemed separate - such as engineering, computer science and the life sciences.

This year MIT put out a report called “Convergence: The Future of Health” which states: “Convergence comes as a result of the sharing of methods and ideas by chemists, physicists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and life scientists across multiple fields and industries. It is the integration of insights and approaches from historically distinct scientific and technological disciplines. Convergence is a broad effort across the sciences that will play a crucial role in many fields of endeavor. As noted above it needs to be applied to help solve many of the world’s grand challenges.”

Jeff Karp


We at Biotech Week Boston are excited by the possibilities that this new era of convergence can bring to biotech. We’ve asked writer Nick Paul Taylor (Nature, Fierce Biotech, Regulatory Focus) to report on several innovators who are contributing to this convergence of disciplines and ideas here in Boston. Nick begins his analysis of this exciting multidisciplinary movement in Boston with Jeff Karp, founder of Karp Lab. Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital, principal faculty at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute and Affiliate Faculty at MIT and the Broad Institute and board of advisors at TEDMED - MIT's Technology Review listed him as one of the top innovators in the world under the age of 35 in 2014.

We’re proud to feature world renowned innovator Professor Karp in our report “Convergence in Boston: How multidisciplinary R&D is driving bench-to-bedside breakthroughs”. Karp Labs is “innovating at the intersection of medicine and science” with a firm belief that “innovation occurs at the interface of disciplines” and a focus on translational research. Click to download and read about Karp Labs’ contribution to this convergence phenomenon (no email address or registration is required).

We hope you enjoy Nick’s in-depth report. You can catch up with Jeffrey Karp’s newest discoveries and research at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event this October. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids".





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Monday, August 22, 2016

5 Women to Watch in Boston Biotech

Less than five percent of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies are women (just one is an African-American woman) but in Boston, several of the most influential biotech executives are women. Perhaps it is the fact that startups with at least one female founder simply perform better. To honor the accomplishments of these pioneering executives, here’s a snapshot at the contributions of five notable women to biotech in Boston.



Susan Windham-Bannister, President and CEO of Biomedical Growth Strategies and the Managing Partner of Biomedical Innovation Advisors

Susan Windham-Bannister was the first President and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center where she oversaw a $1 billion investment to accelerate the growth of biotech in Massachusetts. A trail-blazer, she was the first African-American woman to lead a life sciences growth initiative of this scale. Named one of the 10 Most Influential Women in Biotech by the Boston Globe, Windham-Bannister took the reins at the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center in 2008 at a particularly difficult time in the US economy. Windham-Bannister turned this potential disadvantage into a creative force for opportunity, partnering with the private sector to, as a 2013 Northeastern University report found: “attract $3 in outside investment for every public dollar spent, turning just over $300 million in state funds into more than $1 billion worth of backing for the local life sciences sector.”

Susan Windham-Bannister will be the keynote for the Women’s Leadership Symposium and Dinner at part of our Biotech Week Boston event this October.



Mary Lynne Hedley, Ph.D. Co-Founder, President and Board Member, Tesaro

Named “Life Science Entrepreneur of the Year” by the New England Venture Capital Association this past spring, Mary Lynne Hedley Ph.D. has been rightly called a pharmacology pioneer as she has been developing cancer drugs since 1996. Hedley began her career as the co-founder of Zycos, Inc. (which later became MGI Pharma, then Eisai Co Ltd.) moving on in 2009 to become EVP of Operations and Chief Scientific Officer of Abraxis Bioscience. In 2010 Hedley co-founded (with partner Lonnie Moulder) Boston biotech Tesaro, an oncology-focused biopharmaceutical company. The first drug Tesaro brought to the market, called Varubi, manages the side effects of chemotherapy to alleviate suffering and therefore bring some normalcy to the lives of oncology patients. Tesaro is also developing cancer drug Niraparib which we wrote about here. Late last year, Don Seiffert of Boston Business Journal asked Hedley what it was like being one of a tiny minority of women in biotech. Hedley offered: “It’s probably like being a guy in biotech.” Relatively, that rings true – biotech is a tough industry for anyone, with 9 out of 10 companies that begin clinical trials unable to succeed in bringing those drugs to the market.



Katrine Bosley, Chief Executive Officer, Editas Medicine

In 2016, even the least scientifically minded among us cannot have missed the buzz about “CRISPR” technology. Katrine Bosley is at the front row and center of this pioneering technology as the CEO of Editas Medicine. This June Bloomberg called CRISPR “the genetic tool that will modify humanity” and Editas’ mission is to successfully use CRISPR to repair genes that cause mutations that cause a broad range of diseases. In 2014, when Bosley joined Editas, Alex Lash called her one of the “highest profile CEOs of the biotech scene” and her profile has only gotten higher since then. Bosley began her career at Alkermes, moved on to Highland Capital Partners, then Biogen, and then Adnexus (which was bought by Bristol-Myers Squibb).  In her first CEO role, Bosley led Avila Therapeutics into a buyout from Celgene. Prior to Editas, from 2013-2014 she was an Entrepreneur in Residence at the Broad Institute. This May, Fast Company wrote: “Five years ago this was a medical pipedream…With an aggressive timeline and a giant war chest, the Editas CEO may be the first to treat genetic mutations using CRISPR technology…as soon as next year.”



Hannah Mamuszka, Founder Alva10

You may not have heard of Alva10 – yet – but I'll take a bet that you will soon. From stints at some of the most well known Boston based and Global biotechs - Organogenisis, Takeda and ArQule as a researcher and scientist - to almost twelve years as a Director of Pharmaceutical Alliances at Exiqon (previously Oncotech) and most recently VP of Business Development at Exosome, Hannah Mamuszka’s career “has evolved based on the intersections of biotechnology and business development”. The name of her new company Alva10 was inspired by Thomas Edison - whose middle name was, of course, Alva. Mamuszka explains: "Edison was an amazing inventor and thinker, who thought about challenges completely differently than everyone else at the time, and produced radically different results as a product of that thinking. With Alva10, we are emphasizing the value that diagnostics play in personalized, precision medicine, and approaching that value from a completely different perspective than anyone else (that I've seen) in the industry.” The diagnostics she is talking about can analyze “both DNA and RNA in a molecular liquid biopsy”. This ability to translate Big Data into “well validated, broadly distributed diagnostics that are valued in the healthcare system” Mamuszka says is key to precision medicine being realized.



Barbara Fox, Ph.D. Entrepreneur in Residence at Partners Innovation Fund

With a career spanning almost thirty years that started as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Maryland and led to her current role as Founder and CEO of Avaxia Biologics, Barbara Fox has honed her networking skills into a fine art, enabling her companies to compete and win in the highly competitive world of biotech. Prior to Avaxia, Fox was an Affiliated Entrepreneur at Oxford Bioscience Partners, before that President and Chief Scientific Officer of Recovery Pharmaceuticals (now Shire) - a company she founded that develops medicines for the treatment of addiction. Her first position after teaching was Senior Scientist at Immulogic Pharmaceuticals where she quickly moved from that role into Vice President of Discovery Research. At Immulogic Fox directed programs into vaccine development, allergy, autoimmune disease and substance abuse research.

We are pleased to have Barbara Fox speak at Biotech Week Boston’s Bioprocessing International Conference and Exhibition. She will be presenting “Funding a Therapeutic-Focused Company through Angels: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly”. Fox will also be a panelist for: ”How to Overcome the Funding Gap for Biotech Start-ups and Emerging Companies”. Fox will be joined by Joshua Speidel, Latham Biopharm Group and Ohad Karnieli of Karnieli, Ltd.


Got any more women in Boston biotech you think we need to write about? We’d love to share them with our audience so Tweet to us at @BiotechWkBoston. And don’t forget to check in every week for our Biotech Week Boston blog series. Biotech Week Boston is a hub for life sciences, technology, and business and fosters cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration to break down silos and spark change. Biotech Week Boston will showcase the most comprehensive science and innovative technologies while fostering partnerships to unlock the full potential of what science and business can achieve. Learn more by clicking the link below.





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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Boston’s ‘Neuro’ Network will Ignite Innovation

We asked Martin Tolar, the Founder, President & CEO of Alzheon, Inc. what he thought Boston biotech would look like in 2050 earlier this week, and his response prompted us to invite him to contribute a blog post. What follows is Dr. Tolar's look into the future of biotech, specifically around neurodegenerative disorders.

By Martin Tolar, MD, PhD, Founder, President and CEO Alzheon, Inc.

Developing new medicines for neurodegenerative disorders is one of the most challenging areas of drug development that is pushing the new frontiers, and at last with the prospect of real breakthroughs on the horizon. Boston is one of the most active areas for research and drug development in neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases. The Boston ecosystem that fuels biotechnology innovation includes a brain trust of experts in science, medicine and biotechnology collaborating for new ways to treat neurodegenerative disorders.




By the year 2050, the outlook is promising for new life-changing medicines to emerge from the Boston hub for these devastating diseases of the brain that represents some of the greatest challenges in human health, currently with very limited treatment options for patients: Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s diseases. We are on the cusp of bringing new medicines to millions of patients in need.

Let me predict some of the progress that will be made in Alzheimer’s disease, which is the key therapeutic focus for my company, Alzheon.

Biotech companies have already emerged in the land of the ‘giants’ of the big pharmaceutical companies who have traditionally carried out Alzheimer’s drug development, and companies in this region are poised to maintain their position through 2050 for being on the leading-edge of advancing some of the first medicines to Alzheimer’s patients.

In 2050 and beyond, Boston-area biotechs are poised to maintain their position on the leading-edge of bringing some of the first approved medicines to Alzheimer’s patients. Already Boston-area biotechs are among the companies with the most advanced Alzheimer’s drug candidates in Phase 3 clinical trials, and in particular Biogen has led local drug development in this therapeutic area. Biotech companies, including those from Boston, have emerged and earned their place in the ‘land of the giants’ of the big pharmaceutical companies who have traditionally carried out Alzheimer’s drug development.

Alzheimer’s research from the Boston area will span the full spectrum of different treatment approaches for Alzheimer’s disease. New drug mechanisms for targeting Alzheimer’s will continue to emerge, and Boston researchers and biotech companies will continue to spur new frontiers for Alzheimer’s mechanisms. Amyloid-targeting is the most advanced drug development approach for Alzheimer’s, with more recent drug candidates following new science related to the role of tau protein in Alzheimer’s. Boston biotech companies will further advance the most well-established biology and mature learnings in the field of Alzheimer’s which offer the most near-term treatment possibilities. Drug candidates that target beta-amyloid, a pathway that is well-known to play a role in Alzheimer’s, are in Phase 3 trials with data on the near-term horizon, and two Boston-area companies, Biogen and Alzheon, have advanced drug candidates that target beta-amyloid.

Advances in Alzheimer’s drug development will be supported by new understanding of the genetics and sub-populations of Alzheimer’s disease, areas in which Boston’s world-class science and medical ecosystems will continue to make contributions. New insights about genetic markers for Alzheimer’s disease and deeper understanding about the underlying biology and disease progression are guiding better drug development and smarter targeting of patient sub-populations. Again, the Boston ecosystem is ideally suited to bring together scientific researchers, medical thought leaders, and biotech companies to rapidly translate new insights into drug development programs. For example, when clinical research showed that Alzheimer’s patients with the APOE4 gene have a higher risk and burden of disease, drug developers began to explore if patients in APOE4 sub-populations might be higher responders to certain drug candidates. Alzheon is proud to be a pioneer in applying a precision medicine approach to Alzheimer’s, by focusing our drug development on the APOE4 genetically-defined patients with Alzheimer’s.

At this moment in 2016, there is tremendous momentum in the field of Alzheimer’s disease. The ‘neuro network’ of industry, medicine and academia – in Boston and throughout the world – is emerging with greater knowledge about Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders, which is driving better informed drug development. Our collective goal is to bring truly effective treatments to market that will change the lives of Alzheimer’s patients, as well as curbing the skyrocketing cost to society estimated at $1 trillion annually in the U.S. by the year 2050. As we look to 2050 and beyond, the future looks brighter than ever for achieving this goal and preventing devastation brought to patients and the impact on society.

You can see Martin Tolar at Biotech Week Boston's Partnerships in Clinical Trials event this October. Martin will present the opening keynote for day 2 of the event entitled "Innovation in Clinical R&D: Finding a Cure for Alzheimer’s". In this opening keynote Alzheon’s CEO will share the company’s drug development journey in neuroscience, as they innovate towards novel therapeutic solutions for Alzheimer’s Disease. Join us for insights on how innovation at Alzheon has been key in developing a promising pipeline of therapeutics in the clinic.

Martin Tolar


Please follow us on Twitter @BiotechWkBoston for more Boston biotech news and information, and don’t forget to check in every week for our Biotech Week Boston blog series. Biotech Week Boston is happening this October 4-7; you can learn more by clicking the link below.






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Monday, August 15, 2016

Experts Predict what Boston Biotech Might Look Like in 2050

This past July Karl Thiel wrote in Biospace: “Never has there been so much transformative technology, seemingly right around the corner… Hugely exciting new technologies like CAR-T, emerging technologies like CRISPR-Cas, and perhaps-ready-for-prime-time technologies like RNAi, gene therapy, and antisense all seem to be on the cusp of revolutionizing healthcare.” It’s hard to deny the fact that so many amazing groundbreaking biotechnologies have been developed, so quickly, in the past few years. If this growth rate continues there is really no telling what is on the horizon for biotech. I asked several experts in the Boston area – from biotech CEOs to bioengineers – what they thought Boston biotech would look like in 30 or so years.

What does Boston biotech look like in 2050?


Jeffrey Karp, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Karp Labs

In 2050, Boston’s population will have significantly swelled resulting from the booming biotech, medtech, and pharma industries, and new innovative colleges that have formed. People will be much more in control of their health than they are today - most people will have had their genome sequenced and will wear devices whose data will be used to minimize implications of the genome findings. Data from wearable devices will help promote lifestyle modifications to maximize health and be used by clinicians to tailor patient specific treatments. Life expectancies will continue to rise and quality of life past 65 will improve with regenerative therapies for hearing loss, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. This will in part be achieved through controlling stem cell populations inside the body with small molecules. People will also frequently visit stem cell infusion clinics for routine therapy for multiple diseases and tissue defects. The future is quite bright for Boston!

Catch Jeffrey Karp at Biotech Week Boston's Cell and Gene Therapy Bioprocessing and Commercialization event this October. Jeffrey's talk is entitled "MSCs on steroids".


Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor, MIT

I think in 2050 the Boston area will be the center of the biotech universe even more than it is today, and I expect we will see a host of new technologies including RNA therapies, nanotechnology, tissue engineering, gene editing and technologies that are not even on our radar screen today affecting the lives of billions all over the world.


Martin Tolar, MD, PhD, Founder, President and CEO Alzheon, Inc.

Boston is one of the most active areas for research and drug development in neuroscience and neurodegenerative diseases. The Boston ecosystem that fuels biotechnology innovation includes a brain trust of experts in science, medicine and biotechnology collaborating for new ways to treat neurodegenerative disorders.

By the year 2050, the outlook is promising for new life-changing medicines to emerge from the Boston hub for these devastating diseases of the brain that represents some of the greatest challenges in human health, currently with very limited treatment options for patients: Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s diseases. We are on the cusp of bringing new medicines to millions of patients in need.

You can see Martin Tolar at Biotech Week Boston's Partnerships in Clinical Trials event this October. Martin will present the opening keynote for day two of the event entitled "Innovation in Clinical R&D: Finding a Cure for Alzheimer’s".


C. Michael Gibson, Founder and Chairman of Wikidoc.org and Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School

Randomized clinical trials will no longer need to pay to build a new database for each trial and will not be using large number of nurses and doctors to identify and follow patients. Instead, national health databases will be used to identify patients with disease or those at risk of disease, and with the patient's consent they will be randomized to a therapy and followed using this database and a more limited number of nurses at centralized centers. Digital devices will collect and transmit data. Obviously, therapy will be much more highly targeted based upon genomics, proteinomics and other "ics."


Phillip Sharp, Ph. D.  Koch Institute at MIT. Dr. Sharp won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1993 for the discovery of RNA splicing (in 1977) and founded Biogen in 1978.

Biotech in Cambridge and Boston will be thriving in 2050 having generated numerous treatments for Alzheimer's, Parkinson’s, better control of cancers, schizophrenia and depression. Delivery of medical care will continue to move from hospitals to more diverse settings and intense use of IT and engineering will individualize healthcare and reduce its cost.


Got any predictions for 2050? We’d love to share them with our audience so Tweet to us at @BiotechWkBoston. Don’t forget to check in every week for our Biotech Week Boston blog series. Biotech Week Boston is a hub for life sciences, technology, and business and fosters cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration to break down silos and spark change. Biotech Week Boston will showcase the most comprehensive science and innovative technologies while fostering partnerships to unlock the full potential of what science and business can achieve. Learn more by clicking the link below.






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Monday, August 8, 2016

A Look at Three of Boston’s Biotech Disruptors: Christopher Viehbacher, Michael Pellini and Noubar Afeyan

Disruptors are a special type of innovator who go outside the box and attempt to change preconceived notions and practices. If you take a look at the meaning of the word, “to disrupt” means to “rupture” or break apart, and essentially disruptors do this - discarding the old ways to bring in new ones. We might even take it a step further and look at as the commonly used root of "dis" which means to "do the opposite of" - and see the idea that disruptors are "fixers" essentially putting the pieces of something broken back together. Here’s a look at three disruptors in Boston Biotech who are revolutionizing traditional pharma to radically change the ways cures are being brought about for disease.

Boston Biotech Disruptors


From all the stories that have been in the press about Christopher Viehbacher lately, you see a man who’s an extremely successful change agent that helped Big Pharma save billions. But dig a little deeper and you see a different Christopher Viehbacher, a person who is passionate about “bringing medicines to patients” without “distractions”. Joseph Haas from The Pink Sheet interviewed Viehbacher last year at BioPharm America™ and in the video Viehbacher comes across as fairly triumphant about having left his career in Big Pharma behind and invigorated by his current work as Managing Partner of Gurnet Point Capital and Executive Chairman of Boston Pharmaceuticals.

Interviewer Haas discussed how it’s a current trend that key executives in the industry are moving from Big Pharma to “small pharma” or biotech, and this theme was echoed throughout the entire conversation with Viehbacher. Viehbacher explained his thoughts on how he feels biotechs are simply a better model for efficiency: “There are dys-synergies of scale in this industry. As you get bigger you don’t necessarily get better. ... (Pharma) is an industry that has to reinvent itself all the time… Genzyme was an important tech investment for Sanofi, we weren’t really in biologics, we didn’t have a credible R&D base in the US. Building from scratch would have taken so long. Some of these acquisitions are not just product based but actually help you to shape the strategy of the company.”

Viehbacher explained what he sees as a big pitfall with many Big Pharmas – the inability to take risks: “What people forget about this industry – and that was particularly difficult to communicate in a big company - our business is inherently risky. If you don’t take risks, you will not advance. The question is ‘How do you manage the risk?’ That’s partly through a portfolio strategy… you need to be in multiple therapeutic areas, in multiple products. That means diversifying your sources of innovation, if you’re just betting on your own teams all the time you’re not necessarily going to come up with innovation. You have to mix sourcing of innovation from outside and from inside.”

He goes on to discuss the freedom given to biotechs versus the demands placed on Big Pharma: “You have to accept that some of the things you are going to do are not going to work out. I used to look at Regeneron, they would have Fidelity as a big investor, Sanofi had fidelity as a big investor – but it’s not the same Fidelity. And the expectations when you’re Big Pharma are buy backs on dividends. You’re a big cap company, they want you to have this predictability and sustainability of results. It became more difficult to take on risk and do innovation. In biotech there’s an assumption that this is risky and there’s an assumption that it’s going to take a while to see a payoff. Biotechs aren’t so concerned about quarterly earnings. That is one of the other reasons why I was quite happy to shift, if you really want to be involved in science and innovation you have to have patient capital and you can’t be on that treadmill of quarterly earnings. There will always be a role for biotech and big pharma but they really have to think about themselves in a complimentary way instead of a competitive way.”

How does Boston Pharmaceuticals disrupt? Well for one thing they have “no specific therapeutic area in mind” and focus on drugs targets that have already proven to have a benefit – and develop them with outside providers. Their site describes what they do well and simply: they acquire clinical stage molecules which they develop through clinical phases and then either partner and out license or keep and commercialize. The copy for the Gurnet Point Capital website strongly echoes Viehbacher’s disruptive vision: “We partner with life science leaders who have the vision and drive to transform their businesses. Those leaders are born risk-takers. Original thinkers with big ideas and bigger ambitions. Explorers who question the status quo. They are driven to succeed and are uncompromising in their quest to make things happen, even if the solutions aren’t easy or obvious.”

Michael Pellini is also a Big Pharma veteran who has transitioned to biotech. The President and CEO of Foundation Medicine, an organization that uses genetics to help select the right drugs to treat cancer patients, he and his organization are disrupting the siloed approach to cancer research to make cures happen faster and more effectively. He discusses his reasons for this disruption in a Pershing Square Foundation presentation last year.

Pellini begins: “Our aim is to democratize the precision medicine initiative and the work going on at academic centers around the US - not to be competitive with the academic centers – but let’s face it 85% of the patients in the United States never end up at Sloan Kettering, Weill Cornell or MD Anderson - they are treated in the communities around the United States.”

Pellini explains the need for what Foundation Medicine fundamentally does: “We extract information…we’re all building these databases that have to come together and they should absolutely not just come together inside my company or inside a medical center…they have to truly come together over time. (You need to combine) learning from the West Coast, Southeast, New York City, Boston, Hong Kong – because you’re going to see patients that are these snowflakes, tumors represented as snowflakes all around the world even the experts might not have seen enough of any one patient diagnosis to know exactly what to do with that patient. That issue is magnified many times over in the communities around the United States.” He emphasizes that “all data needs to be connected” and he urges the scientific community to “take the learnings from Silicon Valley.”

Moderna Therapeutics, a company co-founded by Noubar Afeyan, was given the distinction of being the #1 disruptor by CNBC last year, one of just a handful of non-tech companies in that list. Afeyan is the founder, Senior Managing Partner and CEO of Flagship Ventures, the firm that launched Moderna as well as several others. In fact, in his 30 plus year career, Afeyan has founded over 38 life science and tech startups, making him the perfect person to - know when and how NOT to start a start-up. An immigrant to the US at age 13, Afeyan credits being an immigrant as a big part of his success. He said to the Armenian Mirror-Spectator this spring: “What keeps you from innovating is being comfortable…If you’re an immigrant, then you’re used to being out of your comfort zone.”.

Two years ago Afeyan gave an inspiring talk to a group of scientists at Imperial College in London, and interestingly enough his talk was less about scientific innovation than it was about the business aspect of how to make scientific discoveries successful. Afeyan opened his talk with the affirmation that the most important innovation in the last fifty years wasn’t the internet, biotherapeutics or even genome sequencing but “startup ventures” as an entity. Afeyan makes this point: “Startup ventures are a fairly new phenomenon. When I was at MIT in the mid-1980s there was maybe one company every year of any note that was being created.”

He goes on to describe his experience of founding multiple startups, and offers the idea that startups as the way they are now will radically change. Afeyan is at the epicenter of that change with his organization Flagship Ventures: “Flagship ventures asks the question, can you think systematically about innovation, instead of doing it when it comes to you or when an opportunity is presented. Venture Labs is an institutional attempt to create first of their kind companies around technologies developed to solve a problem – not around advancement of science.”

Please follow us on LinkedIn at our company page or on Twitter @BiotechWkBoston for more Boston biotech news and information, and don’t forget to check in every week for our Biotech Week Boston blog series. Biotech Week Boston is happening this October 4-7; you can learn more by clicking the link below.






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Monday, August 1, 2016

How Venture Philanthropy is Helping 5 Boston Biotechs Develop Cures

Researching and developing lifesaving medicines can take as long as 15 years and the costs are high – recently estimated at $2.6 billion by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. Venture capital can be hard to get, especially in the early stages of the drug pipeline. Broadview Ventures summed up the situation in their Venture Philanthropy in the Healthcare Marketplace report: “Venture capitalists are risk averse. NIH is retracting. Big Pharma is refocused on marketing and commercialization, as the productivity of R&D declines. This widening translational gap threatens to strand promising products and cures.”




Luckily venture philanthropy is increasingly fulfilling those financial needs with important bridge funding. And where once philanthropies focused on funding academic and institutional research, more and more are beginning to take a look at biotech companies, and essentially helping to build those bridges from bench to bedside in order to expedite the delivery and approval of life saving therapeutics. Chris Colecchi of Broadview Ventures was quoted in their report: “Venture philanthropy can disrupt the status quo with fewer dollars than people think. Modest amounts of money can fund early stage research in that translational space.” Indeed their research shows that 51% of the funding that venture philanthropies are giving focuses on the preclinical stage of development, a “key unmet need in the funding landscape”. But just exactly who is funding medical research, and what research are they funding? Here are examples of five Boston biotechs who are working with patient advocacy foundations to develop cures.

Five years ago the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) stepped in to help Boston biotech Selecta Biosciences develop a vaccine for type 1 diabetes, specifically a therapeutic which would prevent the autoimmune response that causes type 1 diabetes. Since JDRF’s inception, JDRF has contributed more than $2 billion to T1D research and is currently funding 50 human clinical trials of potential T1D therapies. Selecta’s ability to begin this research with the help of JDRF’s funding led them to the success they have now; just this June they raised $70 million in an IPO. Selecta describes their technology as being: “designed to communicate precise instructions to the immune system and to expand the use of vaccines to immunotherapies that enable a new generation of biologic therapies to treat autoimmune diseases, allergies, and cancer.” You can learn more about JDRF grants and the work they do here.

Akashi Therapeutics is unusual in that it was founded not by VCs but by nonprofit disease advocacy groups for the main purpose of developing a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Duchenne is a disease which affects about 300,000 people a year, primarily boys, and leads to progressive decline in muscle function and early death. Akashi Therapeutics was founded in 2010 – known then as Dart Therapeutics - and by 2014 it had raised $2.5 million dollars from 25 different patient advocacy groups. One of those groups was CureDuchenne. Akashi has had to suspend an experimental treatment called HT-100 for Duchenne following the tragic death of one child who was being given a high dose of the drug. (You can get an update from their CEO Marc Blaustein here where he talks about next steps for the HT-100 study.) Early this year CureDuchenne’s president and CEO Debra Miller spoke with Boston Business Journal about the situation: “We are confident that the team at Akashi will be able to isolate the problem soon. Anti-fibrotic drugs are needed, and CureDuchenne will continue to fund a research pipeline so that we can treat all aspects of this devastating disease.” CureDuchenne is currently funding 10 clinical trials and 7 preclinical studies as well as the Center for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at UCLA. You can apply for a research grant directly on their website here.

Early this year The Boston Globe described The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and their then President Robert J Beall as having “pioneered” the model of “venture philanthropy”. In fact, The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation have invested a great deal of their resources in the Boston area: with early investment in Vertex Pharmaceuticals, a current alliance with Shire PLC and their own research lab in Bedford, Massachusetts. Late this spring Boston’s Editas Medicine made an exciting announcement – that The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation would be giving them up to $5 million for their research on CRISPR/Cas9 based medicines. CFF’s press release says that in 2015 they: ”gave approximately $15 million in grants to nearly 50 scientific laboratories to fund CF research on emerging technologies such as gene editing, gene delivery and stem cell research.” Learn more about CFF research awards here.

Last year Emulate was awarded a grant from the Michael J. Fox Foundation to apply the company’s “organs-on-chips” for the investigation of drug candidates for Parkinson’s disease. Organs on chips basically simulate the real thing for testing, to give more predictive data as well as a deeper understanding of both drug and disease. This funding led to Emulate eventually raising $28 million in a Series B Round this past March, as well as partnerships with both Merck and Johnson & Johnson. The Michael J. Fox Foundation website shows recent grants to Boston’s own MGH and MIT, and their press says they have funded more than $600 million in research to date fundamentally altering the “trajectory of progress toward a cure” for Parkinson’s disease. You can learn more about MJFF grants here.

Back in 2012, Constellation Pharmaceuticals began a partnership with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) to “advance the development of a novel BET inhibitor.” LLS provided $7.5 million in funding for their Phase I trial. Since then Constellation has established an alliance with Genentech and gone on to get $55 million in financing from venture capital. Their website describes why they develop drugs that target epigenetic function: “Our research has shown that when epigenetic regulatory events occur aberrantly, the proteins that regulate these events can become drivers of disease. Inhibiting these targets with novel agents promises to be a powerful avenue to develop important treatments serving unmet medical needs.” LLS invested a total of $67.2 million in cancer research last year. You can learn more about partnering with LLS here.


Please follow us on LinkedIn at our company page or on Twitter @BiotechWkBoston for more Boston biotech news and information, and don’t forget to check in every week for our Biotech Week Boston blog series. Biotech Week Boston is happening this October 4-7; you can learn more by clicking the link below.







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