Alex Philippidis Senior News Editor Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
Up-and-Coming Stars Shine in Biopharma Research and Business
“One of the very advantages of youth,” Mark Twain observed in 1895, is “you don't own any stock in anything. You have a good time, and all the grief and trouble is with the other fellows.” The carefree youth described by Twain, piloting steamboats on the Mississippi River, could not be further from the very busy, and very accomplished, early career years of the 10 people selected by GEN for this year’s “Top 10 Under 40” list.
In past years, GEN “Under 40” lists consisted entirely of business executives or investigators. This year’s list combines 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 their employers, or as reported in publications that have included them in their own “Under 40” lists.
Six of this year’s 10 have backgrounds in research, and the rest have experience either in business or a combination of research and business. Interestingly, more than half of GEN’s “Top 10 Under 40” are women—no small distinction given the growing attention paid to diversity in biopharma.
As for those whose age precludes them from consideration in this or other “Under 40” lists, perhaps some comfort can be found in the words of an Irish author and poet who lived a century after Twain: “You are as young as you feel,” John O’Donohue observed. “If you begin to feel the warmth of your soul, there will be a youthfulness in you that no one will be able to take away from you.”
Noura Abul-Husn, M.D., Ph.D.
Director of Translational Genetics, Regeneron Genetics Center
37 years old
Dr. Abul-Husn is a physician scientist whose research focus is to advance genomics-driven drug discovery and precision medicine. In 2016 she joined Regeneron, where she works with a team of human geneticists integrating large-scale genomic sequencing and clinical data to gain insight into disease mechanisms and discover novel therapeutic targets. She obtained her M.D. and Ph.D. at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, after which she completed residency training in internal medicine and medical genetics.
Matthew Aliota, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, Pathobiological Sciences, University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine
35 years old
Dr. Aliota’s primary research focus is in the evolution and transmission dynamics of arthropod-borne pathogens, with an emphasis on understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in establishing and maintaining the host-parasite relationship, the role of host-specific and pathogen-specific evolutionary pressures in defining these relationships, or understanding molecular mechanisms of inter-species transmission. His research is directed at developing strategies to interrupt pathogen transmission or predict a pathogen's adaptability or evolvability. He obtained his Ph.D. in comparative biomedical sciences from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he completed postdoctoral work.
Michaela Gack, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Microbiology, The University of Chicago
38 years old
Dr. Gack’s laboratory seeks a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying the innate immune response against RNA and DNA virus infection. Using a unique experimental system that combines RNAi screens with proteomics as well as molecular, biochemical, and cell biological studies, her lab is identifying and characterizing the regulatory mechanisms that govern the detection of viral infections through cytosolic innate immune sensors and the subsequent induction of signaling cascades leading to cytokine and antiviral gene expression. She was selected twice for Germany’s list of “Top 40 under 40” scientists, and earlier this year won the 2017 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science. She received her Ph.D. in molecular virology from the collaborative Ph.D. Program of Harvard Medical School and FAU Erlangen–Nuremberg in Germany.
Justin L. Grobe, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Pharmacology, University of Iowa
37 years old
Dr. Grobe’s lab focuses on mechanisms of neural control of cardiovascular and metabolic function, with a particular interest in the local brain renin-angiotensin system and its effectors, vasopressin and the sympathetic nervous system. Research findings have implications for understanding the pathogenesis of obesity, obesity-associated hypertension, and the pregnancy-related hypertensive disorder preeclampsia. He will be promoted to associate professor with tenure on July 1. He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and completed postdoctoral work at University of Iowa, in Iowa City.
Rachel Haurwitz, Ph.D.
President and CEO, Caribou Biosciences
31 years old
Dr. Haurwitz is a co-founder of Caribou Biosciences and has been president and CEO since its inception. She has a research background in CRISPR/Cas biology, and also co-founded Intellia Therapeutics. In 2014, she was named by Forbes to its “30 Under 30” list in Science and Healthcare, and in 2016, Fortune named her to its “40 Under 40” list of most influential young people in business. She is an inventor on several patents and patent applications covering multiple CRISPR-derived technologies, and co-author of scientific papers characterizing CRISPR/Cas systems. She received a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley.
Leen Kawas, Pharm.D., Ph.D.
President and CEO, M3 Biotechnology
31 years old
Dr. Kawas’ company develops drugs based on its novel platform of disease-modifying regenerative small molecules, particularly relevant to neurodegenerative diseases, and has completed two oversubscribed financing rounds. Last year, she won a “40 Under 40” award from the Puget Sound Business Journal and was a finalist for EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year and GeekWire’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year. She earned a Pharm.D. from the University of Jordan and a Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology from Washington State University. She also completed the Executive Training Program at the Foster School of Business, University of Washington.
Teresa Mastracci, Ph.D.
Institute Scientist and Principal Investigator, Indiana Biosciences Research Institute (IBRI)
39 years old
Dr. Mastracci is a molecular and developmental biologist focused on understanding how pathways that direct protein synthesis drive the development and differentiation of the hormone-producing islet cells in the pancreas. Hired last year as the Institute’s first independent investigator, she aims to discover new targets for treatments that provoke the regeneration of the insulin-producing beta cells that are dysfunctional or destroyed in people with diabetes. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto at the Lunenfeld–Tanenbaum Research Institute, and completed postdoctoral studies at Columbia University and the Naomi Berrie Center for Diabetes Research in New York. After being named a Naomi Berrie Fellow in Diabetes Research, and winning a postdoctoral fellowship from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, she was recruited to the Indiana University School of Medicine where she expanded her research and is now an adjunct assistant professor. She was among “Forty Under 40” recognized this year by the Indianapolis Business Journal.
Vivek Ramaswamy, J.D.
Founder and CEO, Roivant Sciences
31 years old
In addition to founding Roivant, Dr. Ramaswamy is founder and a board member—and until last month, CEO—of affiliated company Axovant Sciences, a clinical-stage biopharma focused on developing dementia treatments. Before founding Roivant, Dr. Ramaswamy invested in biotech companies as a partner at hedge fund QVT Financial. In 2007, he co-founded and served as president of Campus Venture Network, a technology company that was acquired two years later. He currently serves as chairman of Arbutus Biopharma, and as a board member of Roivant, Axovant, and another Roivant-affiliated company, Myovant Sciences. He received a B.A. in biology from Harvard College, where he worked in the lab of stem cell scientist Douglas A. Melton, Ph.D., and obtained a J.D. from Yale Law School.
Heather M. Snyder, Ph.D.
Senior Director of Medical and Scientific Operations, Alzheimer's Association
39 years old
Dr. Snyder manages the Alzheimer’s Association's International Research Grant Program, through which the Association funds research applications. She oversees research initiatives that include the Association’s Women’s Alzheimer’s Research Initiative, which explores the link between gender and vulnerability to Alzheimer's, and efforts to understand the role of vascular factors in Alzheimer's and dementia. She also manages a collaborative project with the NIH’s National Institute on Aging to develop an International Alzheimer’s Disease Research Portfolio, which engages over 30 research-funding agencies worldwide. The Portfolio focuses on using a common language to describe funded research, to enable the integration and comparative analysis of Alzheimer’s research funding from public and private organizations worldwide. She received her Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
Morten Sommer, Ph.D.
Professor, Associate Scientific Director, Technical University of Denmark (DTU) Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Biosustainability
35 years old
Dr. Sommer works on understanding and harnessing evolutionary processes and biological diversity, using genome- and metagenome-wide screens and perturbations in conjunction with synthetic biology tools to understand the evolution and phenotypic stability of biosynthetic processes, drug resistance, and complex microbial communities. He has started several companies, including Clinical-Microbiomics, Biosyntia, AntibioTx, and Microlytic (in 2006; which was acquired by Anatrace in 2014). Before starting his own lab, he worked with professors George Church, Ph.D., Stephen Quake, Ph.D., and Prof. Sine Larsen, Cand.scient. He has published over 40 peer-reviewed papers and is the co-inventor on more than 20 patents and patent applications licensed to public and private companies in the U.S. and Europe. He received a Ph.D. in biophysics from Harvard University.