Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

Biopharma Research and Businesses Benefit from Contributions of Emerging Leaders

If indeed “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower,” as Steve Jobs wrote in 2001, then this year’s Top 10 Under 40 are well on the way to becoming leaders in biopharma research and business.

As with last year’s list, GEN is recognizing professionals in biopharma research and/or business, all of whom have been recognized for their achievements, and who are under 40 years old as verified by them or their employers. Half of this year’s 10 have backgrounds in research, while the rest have experience either in business or a combination of research and business.

This year’s “Top 10 Under 40” also divides evenly between women and men; the life sciences is the only STEM field where the percentages of women earning all three levels of higher-education degrees exceeds 50% (59% for bachelor’s degrees, 57.3% for master’s, and 53.3% for Ph.D., according to 2014–15 figures published last year by the National Center for Education Statistics).

Admittedly, this “Under 40” list is bound to leave out professionals who have enjoyed at least comparable (if not greater) impact on biopharma research and business, but whose age precludes them from this or similar recognition elsewhere. For them, some small solace may come in words attributed over the years to Mark Twain, Satchel Paige, and Muhammad Ali: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Aris Baras, M.D.

VP and head of the Regeneron Genetics Center (RGC), Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

33 years old

Dr. Baras has established and leads several foundational genomics collaborations, including one with Geisinger Health System to sequence at least 250,000 participants and another with the UK Biobank to sequence 500,000 participants. RGC research has identified new drug targets, validated existing development programs, and contributed new gene discoveries and precision medicine strategies. RGC has sequenced more than 300,000 individuals to date, collaborating with more than 60 institutions worldwide, and plans to sequence the exomes of millions of participants across its studies. Previously, Dr. Baras held roles and responsibilities at Regeneron across R&D and business development. Before joining Regeneron, Dr. Baras contributed to other biotechnology ventures and conducted research spanning antibody-based therapeutics, cancer research, and nanotechnology applications in drug development. Dr. Baras received his B.S. degree in biology and economics, his M.D., and his MBA degrees all from Duke University.

Caroline Stark Beer

VP, head of business development, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

39 years old

At Alnylam, she oversees all transactions, including collaborations as well as in-licensing and out-licensing for products and technologies. She leads the team responsible for opportunity identification, diligence, and deal negotiations, and played a leading role in the January 2018 restructuring of Alnylam’s rare disease global alliance with Sanofi Genzyme, launched in 2014. She has also overseen the formation of key corporate partnerships, such as Alnylam’s exclusive licensing agreement and research collaboration with Vir Biotechnology to advance up to five RNA interference (RNAi) therapeutics programs for infectious diseases. She joined Alnylam in 2008 as senior manager of business development and has been rapidly promoted to roles of increasing responsibility. Before joining Alnylam, she served as a senior manager of business development and planning at Amicus Therapeutics. Caroline earned a B.A. in economics from Duke University, and an MBA in finance and biotechnology from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Jawad Fares, M.D.

Senior Researcher, Neuroscience Research Center, Lebanese University

26 years old

Dr. Fares is a Spanish-born Lebanese medical doctor, researcher, and scientist whose research brings together conflict medicine, neuroscience, and medical education. His research on injuries from explosives that release submunitions has led to the “Fares Scale of Injuries due to Cluster Munitions,” which assesses injuries based on functional impairment, to better classify the wounds of victims and determine the best possible treatment. Dr. Fares was selected for the “Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe” list and the “Forbes Middle East—Arab 30 Under 30,” and was named an “Arab Youth Pioneer” at the World Government Summit, held February 11–13 in Dubai. Dr. Fares finished his B.S. degree in biology at the American University of Beirut, from whose medical school he earned his M.D. He attained an M.S. degree in neuropsychology from the Neuroscience Research Center at the Lebanese University.

Kellie Ann Jurado, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral scientist in Immunobiology at Yale University

30 years old

Dr. Jurado’s research focuses on understanding how the Zika virus causes damage to the nervous system. Last year, she won a L’Oréal USA For Women in Science fellowship intended to fund the research, furthering her goal of becoming an independent research scientist, and supporting her work on “Cut the Risk,” an educational campaign on sexual and reproductive health that emphasizes the benefits of the HPV vaccine, targeting minority communities. She is developing “Cut the Risk” with partners at Yale Medical School and Yale New Haven Hospital. Dr. Jurado has also focused on increasing the participation of underrepresented minorities and women in STEM throughout her career, most recently serving as a volunteer teacher in an afterschool program in Connecticut. Dr. Jurado received a B.S. degree in biology and microbiology at New Mexico State University, where she graduated first in her class, and received a Ph.D. in virology at Harvard University. 

Neil Kumar, Ph.D.

CEO, BridgeBio

38 years old

Dr. Kumar’s company focuses on developing novel therapies for rare genetic disorders. Before founding BridgeBio in 2014, he was a principal at Third Rock Ventures, where he supported and managed various portfolio companies in addition to focusing on new company formation and due diligence. He also held the role of vice president, business development and operations, for MyoKardia. Before joining Third Rock, Dr. Kumar was an associate principal at McKinsey & Company, where he developed strategies for pharmaceutical and medical device companies and helped lead McKinsey’s personalized medicine efforts. Earlier, Dr. Kumar was involved in the formation of a gene chip startup and was a technical consultant for AstraZeneca’s pathway signaling group. Dr. Kumar is the author of several peer-reviewed papers in the fields of oncology and systems biology. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from Stanford University, and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from MIT.

Emma Lundberg, Ph.D.

Director of the Cell Atlas (part of the Swedish Human Protein Atlas program)

37 years old

Dr. Lundberg’s research aims to define the spatiotemporal organization of the human proteome at a subcellular level and understand how variations and deviations in localization can contribute to cellular function as well as disease, at the interface between bioimaging and proteomics. Dr. Lundberg heads the Cell Profiling group at the Department of Proteomics and Nanobiotechnology at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden, and is an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Human Proteome Organization (HUPO). Since October 2017, she has been a sabbatical visitor at the Chan-Zuckerberg Biohub, and a visiting associate professor at Stanford School of Medicine. Her lab has developed technology platforms for large-scale immunostaining and systematic validation of antibody specificity, as well as initiated citizen science efforts to refine the information in the Human Protein Atlas database. Dr. Lundberg received her Ph.D. in biotechnology in 2008 from KTH, where she received her M.Sc. in biotechnology four years earlier.

Kathleen (Kate) Rubins, Ph.D.

NASA Astronaut

39 years old

Dr. Rubins became the first person to sequence DNA in space during her first space flight on International Space Station Expedition 48/49 in 2016, where she spent 115 days in space and conducted two spacewalks. Previously, she was a fellow/principal investigator at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and headed 14 researchers studying viral diseases that primarily affect Central and West Africa. With the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rubins and colleagues developed the first model of smallpox infection. She also developed a complete map of the poxvirus transcriptome and studied virus-host interactions using both in vitro and animal model systems. She conducted her undergraduate research on HIV-1 integration in the Infectious Diseases Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Dr. Rubins holds a B.S. degree in molecular biology from the University of California, and a Ph.D. in cancer biology from Stanford University Medical School.

Evelina Vågesjö, Ph.D.

Co-founder and CEO, Ilya Pharma

32 years old

Dr. Vågesjö joined physiology professor Mia Phillipson and microbiologist Stefan Roos to spin off Ilya Pharma from Uppsala University and Swedish University of Agriculture in 2016. Ilya is a developer of next-generation biologics for treating wounds in skin and mucosa, through topical delivery of Lactobacillus reuteri engineered to express chemokine CXC motif ligand 12 (CXCL12; SDF-1). The technology and its mechanism of action were detailed in a study published February 5 online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). The company won a grant of SEK 30 million (about $3.5 million) from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, as well as support from EIT Health, the European healthcare innovation consortium. She received her Ph.D. in physiology from Uppsala University, from which she received her B.Sc. degree in management accounting.

Liu Yuchen, M.D., Ph.D.

Researcher, Shenzhen Second People's Hospital, The First Affiliated Hospital of Shenzhen University

30 years old

Dr. Liu, a surgeon and researcher at Shenzhen’s Second People’s Hospital, has developed programmable DNA molecular robots at the nanoscale and used them to recognize and treat cancer cells. These robots are designed to help in the early detection of cancer cells, as they are able to sense and integrate the signals created by these cells as they grow. Dr. Liu’s research interests lie at the interface of information science, molecular engineering, and cancer therapy. The current focus of his research is to engineer information directed self-assembly of nucleic acid (DNA/RNA) structures and devices, and to exploit such systems to do useful molecular work, such as detecting and destroying cancer cells for diagnosis and therapeutic applications. He has published over 50 peer-reviewed papers including Nature Methods, Nature Communications, and eLife, and he won a gold medal at the International Genetically Engineered Machine Competition (iGEM) for his work in genetic technologies in 2015.

Feng Zhang, Ph.D.

Core institute member, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; investigator at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT; James and Patricia Poitras Professor in Neuroscience at MIT.

35 years old

Dr. Zhang has pioneered the development of genome-editing tools for use in eukaryotic cells—including human cells—from natural microbial CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) systems. A bioengineer focused on developing and applying novel molecular technologies for studying the molecular and genetic basis of diseases and providing treatment, Dr. Zhang played a seminal role in developing optogenetics, and co-founded Editas Medicine, Arbor Biotechnologies, and most recently Beam Therapeutics. He has won the Perl/UNC Prize in Neuroscience, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, the National Science Foundation’s Alan T. Waterman Award, the Jacob Heskel Gabbay Award in Biotechnology and Medicine, the Society for Neuroscience Young Investigator Award, the Canada Gairdner International Award, and the Tang Prize. He has also received technology innovation awards from the McKnight, New York Stem Cell, and Damon Runyon foundations. Dr. Feng received his A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Harvard College and his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Stanford University.

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