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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Get your nametags here…

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Backpack game was strong that day.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

One attendee contemplates the meaning of existence as others file in or get their notepads ready.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

A biotech editor fumbles with his recorder, and a few folks spot our photographer.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

And we’re underway. Here’s Koch executive director Anne Deconinck giving a few welcoming remarks.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Beam Therapeutics, a developer of next-gen gene editing therapies, came together when scientific founder David Liu (left) got a phone call immediately after presenting at an innovation summit hosted by venture firm F-Prime Capital Partners. On the phone was venture capitalist Bob Nelsen. “We think you should found a genome editing company,” he told Liu. Liu had already---Editas Medicine, he told Nelsen. An awkward pause ensued. “We think you should found another one.”

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Attendees always get the chance to chime in with some questions.

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

John Evans (right) came over to Beam from Agios Pharmaceuticals, where he had helped develop targeted, small molecule cancer drugs. He views Beam’s work as directly building on that experience. Seeing Liu’s work was “a mind-expanding experience,” he said.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

We now cut to a break of audience members in deep thought.

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Beam has had help deciding what diseases to go after---from patients. Family members of kids with genetic diseases call the company all the time not just with personal anecdotes, but the knowledge that Beam’s technology, called base editing, could help. “One parent proposed an RNA guide to fix her kid’s mutation,” Liu said.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Aviv Regev (middle) ended up co-founding Celsius Therapeutics partly out of frustration. At academic institutions, “their goal is to write papers” and “build a road towards something,” she said. “At some point, somebody has to build the rest of the road.” Regev found the opportunity to do that by connecting with Third Rock Ventures partner Alexis Borisy (right) and forming a biotech, which is led by president Christoph Lengauer (left).

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Celsius is trying to develop drugs using single-cell genomics, or studying the genetic activity of individual cells. The hope is it can answer questions about diseases that previous, more crude methods couldn’t. “We’re able to look at biology that we simply could not see before,” Borisy says, sporting one of his trademark fedoras.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

After selling his company, Padlock Therapeutics, to Bristol-Myers Squibb, Michael Gilman (left) was technically a BMS employee for 30 days---just long enough to get on the company’s health insurance policy. “You get branded drugs for free, by the way,” Gilman joked.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Arrakis Therapeutics began with Jennifer Petter (right), who had been looking for a new opportunity after leaving Celgene. At a scientific conference, she saw a session on drugging RNA with small molecules. “I really felt left out, like I had not gotten the e-mail,” she said. “That was what I wanted to do.” She teamed with an old colleague, now at VC firm Advent Life Sciences, to seed Arrakis in August 2015.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

So, what drives someone to take on a scientific idea that most think are crazy? Petter summed it up this way: “I saw it would be an interesting thing to do and I had no idea how to do it, but I knew it would be fun.”

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Post-event schmoozing underway.

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

These veggies…amirite?

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Petter (right) chatting up some attendees.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

As did Lengauer, while sporting some company swag.

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Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

One attendee displays perfect form on the essential two-hand beer hold.

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Boston's Life Science Disruptors

Thanks to all our attendees. See you again soon!

Photo by Paradiso Photography

Xconomy Boston — 

Michael Gilman was so close to retiring two years ago.

His company, Padlock Therapeutics, was just acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), and he was on his last week on the job. But at a board meeting, he saw an old friend, Jennifer Petter—then Russ Petter—and asked, what are you working on these days?

Petter, a longtime friend and former colleague at Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), had formed a startup called Arrakis Therapeutics. For more than a year, she was its only employee; Arrakis’s headquarters was wherever she and her laptop were. She wanted to target RNA molecules with small molecule drugs, something most people found to be a “crazy, stupid idea,” Gilman said.

“That is just the nuttiest thing I’ve ever heard,” Gilman said. But he was intrigued and took it seriously. Another former Biogen colleague, Jim Barsoum, was involved. Gilman and Petter had dinner as they’d had many times throughout their friendship, and Gilman got more information. “That’s cool, but I really want to retire,” he said.

But he couldn’t help himself. He took a board seat, got a bit closer. And fast forward to 2017, and Gilman became Arrakis’s CEO. Now, he’s the one that’s been pitching investors on drugging RNA and getting sideways looks about the effort; Arrakis is out looking to raise money again. “You only need one or two believers,” Gilman said.

These are the types of stories that were shared last week at Xconomy’s “Boston’s Life Science Disruptors,” a series of candid chats with biotech entrepreneurs about the companies they’ve formed. Today, we’re sharing a small taste of the festivities through a photo slideshow (see above) and some anecdotal tidbits. But first, some thank-yous to everyone who made the event possible:

Thanks to our attendees and speakers from Arrakis, Beam Therapeutics, and Celsius Therapeutics. Thanks also to our event host, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and our sponsors Fish & Richardson and Scientist.com. And a hat tip to Paradiso Photography for the pictures.

With that, hope you enjoy the photos, and see you next time!