We are excited to announce the recipients of the first-ever Xconomy Awards.
The Bridge Project was hatched by MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research in Cambridge and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center in Boston to fund collaborative research between cancer researchers from MIT and Harvard-affiliated hospitals and schools. Its aim is to tackle cancers that have been tough to treat, such as pancreatic and brain cancer, and to move new treatment strategies into the clinic.
Amy Schulman, Lyndra
Pfizer veteran Amy Schulman has big pharma experience, but in Boston she discovered her startup side. In 2014, she moved to Boston, joined Polaris Partners as a venture partner, and became CEO of Arsia Therapeutics. Arsia was acquired in 2016 and Schulman now heads up a drug-delivery startup called Lyndra. She also teaches leadership and corporate accountability at Harvard Business School.
Innovation at the Intersection
Sangeeta Bhatia, MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research
Sangeeta Bhatia has for years been mining new inventions at the intersection of biology, nanomaterials, microfabrication and engineering. She has co-founded companies to commercialize her work, including “liver on a chip” technology, which is now used to screen drugs for toxicity. She has combined nanotechnology with biology to develop cancer diagnostics. Trained as an engineer and physician, Bhatia has also moved into infectious disease, using artificial livers she developed to study how malaria parasites infect the liver.
Katrine Bosley, Editas Medicine
After leading and later selling Avila Therapeutics for $925 million to Celgene in 2012, Katrine Bosley took over Editas Medicine in 2014 and led the company as it became the first ever publicly traded CRISPR-Cas9 drug developer. Soon after she came aboard, Bosley helped raise $120 million, a round that laid the groundwork for a $94 million IPO in 2016. Editas could possibly be the first U.S. company to test CRISPR drugs in humans next year.
Ed Kaye, Sarepta Therapeutics (former)
Ed Kaye became Sarepta Therapeutics’s CEO in 2015, and guided the company through a volatile time to get its first ever drug approved by the FDA. Gaining approval for the Duchenne muscular dystrophy drug eteplirsen (Exondys 51) was critical to Sarepta’s survival and Kaye strengthened the company’s relationship with the agency to pull it off. Now Sarepta has the money to develop other Duchenne treatments. Kaye stepped aside in June.
Commitment to Diversity
Biogen & Women in Bio
Aiming to boost female board representation, Biogen launched an internal program in 2015 to prepare women for corporate governance. Last year, Women in Bio took the reins of what is now called Boardroom Ready and expanded the program industry-wide. Nine of the 13 women in the 2015 class, and four from the 2016 class, have been placed on corporate boards.
Joan Reede, Harvard Medical School
Joan Reede’s efforts to improve diversity at Harvard Medical School revolve around a larger goal of connecting the university to the surrounding community. As the medical school’s dean for diversity and community partnership, she has created programs that provide support to STEM students at all levels of education, address the recruitment and retention of medical students and faculty, and help prepare physicians to work in underserved areas.
Armon Sharei, SQZ Biotech
While at MIT, Armon Sharei developed a relatively simple method to disrupt cell membranes enough to allow large molecules such as proteins to quickly slip inside cells. Sharei, now 30, co-founded SQZ Biotech to sell the cell-squeezing tool to academic researchers. He joined the company as CEO in 2015 when it switched its focus to developing cell therapies for cancer and other diseases.
Nikhil Wagle, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Broad Institute
Nikhil Wagle, a breast cancer oncologist and researcher, wanted to understand why some people with metastatic breast cancer respond better to drugs than others, and why some have more aggressive disease. He worked with patients to create the Metastatic Breast Cancer Project, which collects and sequences DNA from patients’ tumors and looks for genetic changes that are associated with how those patients responded, or didn’t respond, to treatment.
Through a series of acquisitions and other deals, Spero Therapeutics is building an armamentarium of weapons to kill drug-resistant bacteria. One, for instance, doesn’t destroy bacteria on its own, but instead disrupts the outer membrane of tough-to-drug Gram-negative bacteria so that they’re susceptible to antibiotics. Spero raised $51.7 million this year, and $110 million in total since its 2014 inception. After that last raise, CEO Ankit Mahadevia mentioned Spero might seek an IPO in the future.
Tillman Gerngross, Adimab
Tillman Gerngross is the CEO and co-founder of antibody discovery firm Adimab, which does not fit the usual profile in biotech: it is self-sustaining, profitable, and privately held. That unusual path, combined with the in-your-face gusto Gerngross has become known for, has helped earn the outspoken Dartmouth professor and serial entrepreneur a spot on our list of contrarian finalists.
X of the Year
Rob Perez – Community Contribution of the Year
Rob Perez founded the nonprofit Life Science Cares (LSC) in 2016. LSC raises money from companies and individuals in the life sciences community and donates it to nonprofits that it has vetted and partnered with for their work in fighting poverty in Boston. LSC also connects volunteers from industry with these partners. Perez is LSC’s chairman and was a long-time executive at Cubist Pharmaceuticals before Merck bought it in 2015.
Vicki Sato – Xport of the Year
After a long career in various leadership positions across the Boston biotech scene, Vicki Sato is making another career switch, this time as a Boston life science export to New York (she splits her time between the two cities). Sato co-chairs an advisory committee for LifeSci NYC, a 10-year, $500 million government-funded plan to grow the life sciences industry in New York City. The initiative has so far helped launch a biotech incubator at the NYU Langone Medical Center, but LifeSci NYC, with Sato’s help, has much more planned to help boost the city’s biotech ambitions.
Lita Nelsen, MIT (retired)
Lita Nelsen played a pivotal role in transforming Kendall Square and Boston into the hotbed of tech and biotech it is today. For more than 20 years until her recent retirement, she headed up MIT’s tech transfer office, helping to broker countless licensing deals between MIT and companies, and spinning out many startups to commercialize MIT research in life sciences and other areas. She and her team became national leaders in university technology transfer and commercialization, showing how universities are crucial sources of entrepreneurship and innovation.
George Whitesides, Harvard University
Name any hot area of research in chemistry and materials science, and chances are you’ll find George Whitesides and his lab at Harvard at the forefront: microfluidics, nanotechnology, soft robotics, to name a few. One of the country’s most cited chemists, Whitesides co-founded Genzyme, along with about a dozen other companies. He’s mentored hundreds of students and postdocs, served on numerous government committees advising on technology and innovation policy, and has been vocal about the need for chemists and scientists to work on problems of practical importance. He’s been a Harvard professor since 1982.
We had an impressive set of finalists, so selecting the winners was no easy task. Thanks to all of you who submitted nominations, to our judges for helping us pick such a strong group of winners, and to the 350 of you who attended our sold out Gala tonight. Stay tuned for a slideshow and video interviews from the event, as well as profiles and Q&As with our winners over the coming weeks.
And keep an eye out for our call for nominations for the 2018 awards!