These seven researchers are changing the face of biotech

One Bench at a Time

These seven researchers are changing the face of biotech

Read the complete article at BizJournals
Three of the Magnificent 7 are women CEOs at QB3@953 which we want to highlight in our post.

June 8, 2017, Bay Area Biotech
From common-but-stubborn ailments like acne to the future of gene therapy or personalized cancer care, the breadth of biotech innovation happening in the Bay Area is vast. All told, the California Life Sciences Association estimates that the sector accounts for some 68,300 jobs in the region and nearly $1 billion in annual venture capital investment.

To capture a snapshot of the work under way, the Business Times selected seven young scientists and entrepreneurs spanning established drugmakers, startups and academia. Though their interests and backgrounds are varied, they all have one thing in common: each is poised to make a major impact on the future of life sciences.

The Magnificent 7

Leah Makley

Company: Viewpoint Therapeutics
Title: Chief scientific officer

Leah Makley planned to take a cue from her trauma surgeon sister and go to medical school. Soon, however, the chief scientific officer of San Francisco biologic drug startup Viewpoint Therapeutics realized that an interest in chemistry could serve as a springboard into a totally different career.

“I knew I wanted to make drugs in my career,” Makley said. “It was a combination of my interest in medicine and my interest in chemistry.”

It was near the end of the Ph.D. program she finished in 2014 that it became clear there might be an opportunity to commercialize the lab research Makley had been doing on protein-misfolding diseases. In particular, ophthalmological disorders like cataracts provided a basis for Makley and UCSF professor Jason Gestwicki to spin out the technology into a startup.

“There was a little work to do to develop the basic science,” Makley said. “Someone needed to be willing to roll up their sleeves and do a couple years of work.”

With $4 million in funding, she has spent the last two-plus years focused on pilots and preclinical studies. Viewpoint now has three employees, plus a network of consultants.

Ultimately, Makley hopes the technology will reduce or eliminate the need for surgery for people with conditions like cataracts. Another potential ophthalmological application, to say nothing of opportunities in other medical fields: combatting presbyopia, or the degenerative condition that spurs many people to get reading glasses.

“If you could take an eye drop and avoid the need for reading glasses, that might be a really interesting,” Makley said.

Emma Taylor

Company: Naked Biome
Title: CEO and co-founder

For Emma Taylor and her two-year-old biologic drug startup, Naked Biome, dermatology is a window into a range of issues affecting human health.

“You can have pediatric and geriatric medicine, rheumatology, oncology, infectious disease,” said Taylor, the company’s CEO and co-founder and a certified dermatologist. “It was kind of this little microbiome of being able to dabble in everything.”

Prior to starting the company, Taylor was an assistant professor of dermatology at UCLA, where she had become frustrated with the lack of innovation in treatment for common skin conditions like acne and eczema. So Taylor started formulating ideas for a new kind of biologic skin treatment, inspired in part by the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, started in 2009.

Built on the idea of using sequencing of both healthy and diseased skin to identify root causes of acne, the concept helped Taylor win a spot in Illumina Inc.’s “accelerator” and make the move to the Bay Area in 2015.

“The human microbiome data on acne was ready to be translated,” Taylor said. “There is no precedent for this kind of topical live biologic delivery.”

The company has since raised $5 million and now operates as a team of four. While many companies in the dermatology space have attempted to go straight to consumers, Taylor said Naked Biome is now enrolling volunteers to create a database on acne conditions and plans to pursue all approvals for related drugs. Down the road, the company also hopes to develop probiotic treatments for other skin diseases, like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

Agnes Rafalko

Company: Glycomine
Title: CEO and president

After moving all the way from Poland to Connecticut as a teenager, it took Agnes Rafalko a few years to find her footing in the U.S. science market.

After a brief stint in quality control at Pfizer, going back to school for a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry and developing orphan drugs at BioMarin Pharmaceutical, she honed in on a specialty: protein abnormalities linked to rare diseases.

“There are about 7,000 rare disorders out there, and 95 percent of them don’t have therapeutic options,” said Rafalko, who is the CEO of San Francisco biologic drug developer Glycomine. “The technology we’re working on is very interesting and wanted by Big Pharma.”

Now a team of nine, Glycomine was founded in 2015. The company specifically targets genetic disorders of protein and lipid glycosylation, which is often linked to severe disabilities, and is currently developing potential therapies for two separate disorders.

“We’ve been able to raise $12 million, and we’ve calculated that’s going to be enough to go through the testing stage,” Rafalko said. “At the same time, we want to be able to work on other disorders.”

Far from a lifelong aspiring entrepreneur, she credits a move to the Bay Area after graduate school in New England with giving her the push to launch Glycomine.

“Here I am, a young scientist. I’m a woman. I’m blonde. I’m Polish. I had all these things I thought were not in favor of me starting a company,” Rafalko said. “You just do it and make sure you do it well.”

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