“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” Anne Frank wrote in her “Tales from the Secret Annex.”
Among people who appear to have taken that advice to heart over the years are early-career life sciences professionals, whether they work in a university, a company, a nonprofit, a government agency, or somewhere else.
Increasingly in the U.S., that setting is in the private sector: For PhDs in the life or health sciences, 2017 data released over the winter by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in its Science & Engineering Doctorates report showed that 37.6% of doctorate recipients were employed in “industry or business,” slightly below the 40.6% who were employed in academia.
The gap between industry and academia has narrowed from 2012 (28.8% vs. 46.1%), and especially since 1997, when 45% of doctorate recipients worked in academic institutions and only 22.6%, in industry.
Why the narrowing of the gap? Postdoctoral students in recent years have struggled to land academic positions as growing numbers of graduates faced a shrinking number of tenure-track faculty positions—a phenomenon GEN wrote about as far back as 2012. The newly-minted PhDs have responded by taking multiple postdocs at their universities, or increasingly, leaving academia for industry jobs which have emerged as the schools and research institutions have spun out their technologies into startups, and as larger biotechs have established themselves by successfully bringing new therapies to market.
The roughly even split between academia and industry PhDs is reflected in results of this year’s GEN A-List of emerging leaders we call our “Top 10 Under 40”: Five of this year’s honorees hold positions in a business, four in academia, and one holds positions at both an academic institution and a not-for-profit healthcare system.
In this year’s A-List, as with last year’s list and our initial 10-Under-40 A-List in 2017, GEN is recognizing professionals in biopharma research and/or business, all of whom are under 40 years old as verified by them or their employers. This year’s “Top 10 Under 40” also divides evenly between women and men. That should not come as a surprise, since the life sciences remains the only STEM field where the percentages of women earning all three levels of higher-education degrees exceeds 50%, according to 2015-16 data published last year by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Interestingly, the percentage of women receiving life sciences bachelor’s degrees during 2015-16 rose from NCES’ 2014-15 figures (59.9% vs. 59.0%), remained flat for master’s degrees (57.3% both years) and declined slightly for PhD degrees (53.0%, vs. 53.3%).
Any “Under 40” list by definition excludes older professionals who in many cases have enjoyed even greater success in biopharma and related fields, and thus are no less worthy of similar recognition. For them, some small comfort is offered by George Carlin, who once quipped, “I’m 60 years of age. That’s 16 Celsius,” but who also observed, more seriously: “Age is a hell of a price to pay for wisdom.”
Sana Alajmovic, BSc
Co-founder and CEO, Sigrid Therapeutics
32 years old
Alajmovic heads a Swedish clinical-stage biotechnology company looking to pioneer a new class of therapies aimed at preventing and treating lifestyle diseases. The company’s lead candidate, SiPore15™, is being developed as the first therapy acting in the gut to improve blood sugar levels in people at risk of developing diabetes.
Sigrid is part of the Karolinska Innovations incubator Drive for promising life-science startups in Sweden. Sigrid is based on research dating back to 2008, when co-founder Prof. Tore Bengtsson and his research group at Stockholm University made discoveries relating to improvements in measuring metabolic disorders after oral ingestion of engineered silica particles. Sigrid was founded in 2014, and has developed a novel materials platform technology, SiPore™, that is designed to target lifestyle diseases by changing how the human body digests food.
Alajmovic was named one of Sweden’s 101 Super Talents by the Swedish business magazine Veckans Affärer in 2012. She gained a degree in economics and business from Stockholm Business School, and previously served as head of business development for drug delivery at Nanologica, business development manager at venture capital firm Serendipity Innovations Group, and project manager for the Swedish-American Life Science Summit.
Amber Alhadeff, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
30 years old
Alhadeff’s postdoctoral research in the lab of J. Nicholas Betley, PhD, focuses on the mechanisms through which different neural populations drive behavior. She is interested in how hunger neurons influence the perception of external stimuli, and how the gut communicates with the brain to control food intake. The research is designed to give scientists insights into treating metabolic diseases such as obesity, eating disorders, and type 2 diabetes.
Alhadeff received her BA in biology, her MA in psychology, and her PhD in psychology/behavioral neuroscience, all from the University of Pennsylvania. In her doctoral work, Alhadeff studied the hindbrain neuroendocrine control of food intake in the laboratories of Harvey Grill, PhD, and Matthew Hayes, PhD.
Last year, Alhadeff was one of five recipients of the 2018 L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowship, which annually awards five female postdoctoral scientists grants of $60,000 each to advance their research. The grant will provide Alhadeff funding to further her research, including support to hire two female undergraduate students. During her fellowship, Alhadeff is serving as a mentor to local middle and high school girls with a special focus on STEM. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Alhadeff lives in Philadelphia where she enjoys running, biking, cooking, and baking.
Le Cong, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Pathology and Genetics, Stanford University School of Medicine
Faculty member, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute and Bio-X Institute, Stanford University
31 years old
Cong is currently leading a group in the department of pathology and genetics at Stanford School of Medicine that is pursuing novel technology for scalable genome editing and cell engineering, and accompanying computational approaches for single-cell analysis, with a focus on studying cancer immunology and neuro-immunological disorders.
Cong obtained his BS degree with highest honor from Tsinghua University studying electronic engineering and then biology, and received his PhD from Harvard Medical School co-advised by Feng Zhang, PhD, (one of GEN’s “Top 10 Under 40” in 2018) and George Church, PhD. He completed doctoral work primarily in Zhang’s laboratory, where he published several seminal studies on harnessing CRISPR/Cas9 for gene editing. He has obtained over 20 issued patents as co-inventor, and subsequently modified the CRISPR system for gene and cell therapy, leading to one of the first FDA-approved clinical trials employing viral delivery of CRISPR/Cas9 for in vivo gene therapy.
Cong’s postdoctoral work applied single-cell RNA-seq to understand cancer biology under Aviv Regev, PhD, at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in collaboration with Tyler Jacks, PhD, and Vijay Kuchroo, DVM, PhD. Cong was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Fellow, a Cancer Research Institute Irvington Fellow, and was selected to Forbes’ “30 Under 30 Asia” list of young innovators, and MIT Technology Review’s “Innovators Under 35, China” list.
César de la Fuente, PhD
Presidential Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania
33 years old
de la Fuente is pioneering the computerization of biological systems for the development of transformative biotechnologies designed to solve societal grand challenges such as antibiotic resistance. His lab is committed to generating the world’s first computer-made tools and therapies; its activity includes building artificial antibiotics, discovering new antibiotic properties in biological information, generating technologies for microbiome engineering, developing tools for synthetic neuromicrobiology, and engineering living medicines.
Several technologies de la Fuente has helped create are currently under development, and one has been licensed. de la Fuente is first inventor and co-inventor of multiple patents, and has consistently been awarded independent funding, including a prestigious doctoral “la Caixa” Foundation Fellowship, a Postdoctoral Fellowship awarded by the Ramon Areces Foundation, and a Presidential Professorship Chair awarded by the University of Pennsylvania.
Before Penn, he was a postdoctoral associate and Areces Foundation Junior Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) working with Timothy K. Lu, MD, PhD. de la Fuente completed his PhD in microbiology and immunology with Robert E.W. Hancock, PhD, at the University of British Columbia. Most recently, he was recognized by MIT Technology Review as an “Innovator Under 35,” and has been named “Boston Latino 30 Under 30” and a 2018 Wunderkind by STAT News.
Francesco Gatto, PhD
Co-founder and CSO of Elypta
31 years old
Gatto’s research projects have resulted in three patent applications that paved the way to the founding of Elypta in 2017. Elypta is a Swedish molecular diagnostics company working to develop the first liquid biopsy platform based on metabolic biomarkers.
In February, Elypta was awarded a €2.35 million ($2.6 million) grant through the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme, SME instrument phase 2 project, through which the company will conduct the first prospective multicenter clinical study aimed at validating the company’s metabolic biomarker-based liquid biopsy platform for early detection of recurrent renal cell carcinoma.
Gatto was one of MIT Technology Review’s “35 Under 35” in Europe in 2018. This year he has won the Karin Markides Prize, and was selected among the Top 10 Young Biotech Entrepreneurs by Labiotech.eu. Gatto obtained a BSc and MSc in chemical engineering from the University of Padova, Italy in 2011 and a PhD in systems biology and bioinformatics in the lab of Prof. Jens Nielsen at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, in 2015. In 2016, he was Visiting Scholar at the University of California, San Diego in the lab of Bernhard O. Palsson, PhD.
Nicole Gaudelli, PhD
Senior Scientist II, Head of DNA Editing Platform at Beam Therapeutics
34 years old
Gaudelli’s research opened a new frontier in gene editing: the broad expansion in potential therapeutic utility of a new class of genetic medicines, base editors. That work was recognized with a first authorship publication in Nature in 2017, and is part of the scientific foundation of Beam Therapeutics, a startup launched last year. In March, Beam completed a $135 million Series B financing, bringing its total capital raised to $222 million.
Gaudelli completed postdoctoral research in the lab of David R. Liu, PhD, at Harvard University, a co-founder of Beam with Feng Zhang, PhD, and J. Keith Joung, MD, PhD. Liu’s lab previously published research in Nature on a “C base editor” that could create programmable C-to-T or G-to-A edits in DNA—potentially addressing 15% of the 30,000 diseases caused by point mutations.
Gaudelli realized a new form of base editor capable of converting A•T base pairs to G•C base pairs could significantly expand the proportion of potentially addressable diseases, then conducted seven rounds of evolution and engineering, successfully evolving a transfer RNA adenosine deaminase to operate on DNA when fused to a catalytically impaired CRISPR-Cas9 mutant. The 18-month evolution campaign created a highly efficient A base editor with low rates of insertions and deletions.
Latrice Landry, PhD
Clinical Molecular Genetics Fellow, Partners’ Personalized Medicine and the Center for Advanced Molecular Diagnostics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital
38 years old
Landry has committed her career to understanding the relationship between nature and nurture in health disparities, as well as translating health disparities research into clinical practice. She has a broad research interest in how diet and nutrition interact with genetics and contribute to complex human phenotypes.
Landry received both her master’s degree in policy, and her PhD in nutrition, from Tufts University. Her doctoral research focused on the interactions between diet and genetics as a determinant for dyslipidemia in African Americans in the Jackson Heart Study, designed to elucidate the reasons for the greater prevalence of cardiovascular disease among African Americans, and uncover new approaches for reducing that disparity.
As a doctoral student, Landry was awarded the Albert Schweitzer fellowship, nominated as a finalist in the American Society for Nutrition’s Clinical Emerging Leaders Award, and was given the Presidential Award for Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University. Landry graduated from the Harvard Medical School Biomedical Informatics fellowship program in 2015, and was later selected as the inaugural Genomic Medicine and Health Disparities fellow at the FDA in collaboration with the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). At the FDA, she explored the potential consequences of biases in genomic databases in precision medicine settings.
Ankit Mahadevia, MD
Co-founder, President, and CEO, Spero Therapeutics
38 years old
Founded in 2013, Spero Therapeutics is a Cambridge, MA-based global, clinical-stage biopharma with a mission of becoming a leader in Gram-negative antibiotics. Spero’s lead product candidate, SPR994, is anticipated to be the first oral carbapenem antibiotic for use in adults to treat multi-drug resistant (MDR) Gram-negative infections. The company is also developing SPR720, an oral antibiotic designed for the treatment of pulmonary non-tuberculous mycobacterial infections.
Before founding Spero, Mahadevia was a venture partner in the life sciences group at Atlas Venture, where he supported the formation of eight companies focused on novel drug discovery platforms and therapeutic products—including Nimbus Therapeutics, Arteaus Therapeutics (acquired by Lilly), and Translate Bio. He led three of these as acting CEO, including Synlogic. Before joining Atlas in 2008, Mahadevia worked on product and business development with the founding team at Arcion Therapeutics. He has also held positions in business development at Genentech and Vanda Pharmaceuticals.
Previously, he worked in the health care groups of McKinsey & Company and Monitor Group. Mahadevia began his career in health care policy, with roles in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committees, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, and the Mexican Institute of Social Security (IMSS).
Emmanuel J. (Manny) Simons, PhD, MBA
Co-founder, President, and CEO of Akouos
36 years old
Simons is a scientist and entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience in hearing science research and new venture formation. After studying as a biologist at MIT under Institute Professor Robert Langer, ScD, Simons wanted to combine his background in biology and hearing science research. Following his Blavatnik fellowship at Harvard, he founded Akouos, a startup that he co-founded and launched in 2017 with six pioneers in hearing loss and gene therapy. Simons has led Akouos through partnerships with Lonza and Massachusetts Eye and Ear, and in 2018 completed a successful $50 million Series A financing.
Before his fellowship at Harvard, Simons held leadership roles in business and corporate development at Voyager Therapeutics and WarpDriveBio, where he was instrumental in leading strategic partnerships with aggregate value exceeding $1 billion. Earlier in his career, Simons was an Entrepreneurial Fellow at Flagship Ventures, where he was a member of the founding team of Seres Therapeutics. Simons earned an AB magna cum laude in neuroscience and music from Harvard College; a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT under Langer; and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Humsa Venkatesh, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University
32 years old
Venkatesh works in the lab of Michelle Monje, MD, PhD, where she uses in vitro glioma model systems to study various cellular interactions within the tumor microenvironment. Her research combines systems neuroscience and cancer biology to uncover powerful microenvironmental determinants of cancer growth. She hopes to elucidate these interaction mechanisms with the aim of identifying new targets for glioma therapeutics.
Venkatesh was lead author in a 2015 study published in Cell that was the first to demonstrate stimulation of tumor growth by brain activity, specifically nerve activity in the cerebral cortex, and a 2017 study in Nature on applying that approach to treating high-grade glioma. Monje was corresponding author for both studies, which were conducted in mice with aggressive human brain cancers implanted in their brains. The discovery opened a new area of research that she hopes will lead to therapies capable of targeting a broad range of tumor cells.
She developed her interest in cancer research after her uncle, who lived in India, died of kidney cancer less than two years after he was diagnosed. At the time, the only courses of treatment available were standard radiation and chemotherapy. Venkatesh received her PhD from Stanford University, and earlier received her BS from University of California, Berkeley in Chemical Biology.