No. 70
The Proof is in the Proximity

Anecdotal evidence abounds in support of the Koch Institute's position as a leader in collaboration at MIT, but we now have the quantitative data to prove it! A new study from MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, published in PLOS ONE, shows that the KI has the highest rate of intra-MIT co-authorship (roughly 32 percent) and the second highest rate of intra-MIT patent collaboration (27 percent). Both data points are a testament to the KI's success in bringing scientists and engineers together to encourage innovative and interdisciplinary approaches in cancer research. Read here to learn how close physical proximity promotes collaboration and cross-disciplinary research at MIT.

Versatile Nanomedicine

Resistance is futile — especially when the Bhatia Lab leverages cancer-fighting technology to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Applying concepts, designs, and materials from their signature tumor-penetrating nanoparticles, the researchers have designed a new system to fight infections caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa (a bacterium that can lead to serious illnesses including pneumonia), with minimal side effects. Among the repurposed components in these biodegradable, silicon nanoparticles is a special membrane-penetrating peptide. This peptide is critical because the bacteria of interest have not one, but two cell membranes, which prevent entry to other drugs, and it works synergistically with an antimicrobial peptide, to which it is attached. The team also plans to design an inhalable version of their particles, with a third peptide to target the nanoparticles to the correct location in the body, boldly going where no peptides have gone before. Read more.

Xconomy Marks the Spot

Congratulations to KI members, startups, collaborators, and friends who have been selected as finalists for the 2017 Xconomy Awards! We're rooting for the Bridge Project, our collaboration with Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, to win big in the "Big Idea" category, for KI faculty member Sangeeta Bhatia to take home the "Innovation at the Intersection" Award, and for KI immuno-oncology spin-off Dragonfly Therapeutics to knock it out of the park in the "Startup" field. We're also proud to see two KI alumni—Armon Sharei of SQZ Biotech and Andrew Warren of Glympse Bio—in the "Young Innovator" category. The Xconomy Awards recognize people, companies, and organizations working in all life science industries around the Boston area and New England. Winners will be announced at the Xconomy Awards Gala on September 26.

Who Needs Metal? Alternative Rocks!

Researchers in the laboratory of KI collaborator and MIT chemistry professor Jeremiah Johnson have developed a metal-free MRI contrast agent, in the form of nanoparticles loaded with nitroxide molecules, that could be safer for some patients and enable long-term tumor imaging. As described recently in ACS Central Science, and building on previous work conducted in collaboration with the KI's Hammond Lab, the group was able to improve the stability and contrast of the imaging agent while decreasing its toxicity so that it can remain in the bloodstream long enough to accumulate in a tumor without damaging surrounding tissue. The researchers are now refining their particles to carry drugs so they can monitor a therapy's effectiveness against tumors, and to couple the particles to antibodies or immune cells to track biological processes or treatment response in the body. Read more.

Boston Biotech Shines Bright

On Independence Day, moments before the legendary Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular lit up skies and screens alike, Bloomberg Television viewers were treated to a dazzling display celebrating the city's preeminence in biotechnology and medicine. Featuring local leaders from biotech and healthcare, including the KI's Sangeeta Bhatia and Robert Langer, the clip was bursting with history and insight, highlighting the community's unparalleled commitment to fostering innovation in medicine. Watch video.

Hit the Road Against Ovarian Cancer

Sisters Against Ovarian Cancer (SAOC), a Medford-based grassroots advocacy group dedicated to increasing ovarian cancer awareness and research, and improving clinical detection and treatment options, is holding its 10th annual walk on September 9.

Proceeds from the walk support the SAOC Koch Institute Frontier Research Fund, enabling early stage, game-changing cancer research through the Koch Institute Frontier Research Program. For example, an implantable device for less toxic, more effective chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, was featured this spring in SOLUTIONS with/in/sight: Fast Moving Frontiers.

Held in memory of SAOC founder Marie Spinale, the five-mile walk begins rain or shine outside the Stone Zoo and circles scenic Spot Pond. Registration and event information are here – we invite you to lace ‘em up and join us as we recognize this special 10th anniversary, and SAOC’s important work to unseat ovarian cancer as the most deadly gynecologic malignancy.

Langer: Unplugged

How will advances in biotechnology — and the next generation of biotech researchers — continue to shift the paradigm of health and medicine? The KI’s Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor, sat down with CNBC biotech reporter Meg Tirrell in a P4C Unplugged interview at the Partnering for Cures Meeting this summer to discuss what’s next for biotech. Langer also shared anecdotes about how he started his career and how the people who surround him — particularly in his lab — set him and his ideas up for success. Watch the conversation here.

Satellite Liver from Launch to Liftoff

The Bhatia Lab’s satellite liver, previously seen in the KI Public Galleries as part of the 2016 Image Awards exhibition, is reaching new altitudes with the publication of a new paper in Science Translational Medicine. In it, the investigators describe how their engineered liver tissue integrates with other cells in the body and expands production of hepatocytes to perform normal liver function in mice with damaged livers. The team is now working to refine and expand their approach to accelerate the impact these engineered “organoids" can have on patients who suffer from liver diseases, including liver cancer. Read more, and watch an interview with one of the image’s creators here.

Proceed with Caution: Hynes Gives Guidance Following Gene Editing Breakthrough

KI faculty member Richard Hynes has been making the rounds of various media outlets to discuss implications of the announcement by Oregon Health & Science University researchers that they have successfully edited genes in human embryos to repair a mutation that causes a common and potentially deadly heart condition. Hynes, who co-chaired the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine Study Committee that issued the Human Genome Editing Report earlier this year, appeared in The New York Times and on Charlie Rose to underscore the committee's initial recommendations about the important ethical and societal issues that need to be addressed in deciding what should and should not be allowed as additional technical challenges are overcome. Read more about the original report on MIT News.

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, by KI Startups

KI faculty startups spent the summer hard at work making their mark on the biotech scene — and for some, their efforts resulted in exciting news. In addition to CEO and Langer Lab alum Armon Sharei's nomination for Xconomy's "Young Innovator" award, SQZ Biotech was recognized as one of the World Economic Forum Technology Pioneers for 2017. Tiba Biotech took home the gold at swissnex Boston's Annual Global Pitch Fest for their rapid vaccine development platform. Lyndra has been chosen as a Hive 2017 Innovator and CEO Amy Schulman (another Xconomy Awards finalist, in the "Newcomer" category) will be taking the TEDMED stage this fall to share its exciting progress. Rubius Therapeutics, with help from Flagship Pioneering, raised one of the largest biotech financing rounds this year and pulled out of stealth mode. Sigilon also won substantial support to move its encapsulation technology for cell therapy toward the clinic. Also on the clinical front, Selecta Biosciences announced data from Phase 2 clinical trials and Verastem from Phase 2 long-term follow-up trials.

CRISPR Therapeutics launched a new research collaboration with another KI startup, Neon Therapeutics (whose personalized cancer vaccines have been generating buzz), and teamed up with Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center to formulate a novel immunotherapy using gene-editing. In other immuno-oncology news, Dragonfly Therapeutics (also an Xconomy Awards finalist) announced a strategic collaboration with Celgene to discover and develop new natural killer cell-based immunotherapies, while Torque's "deep-primed" immune cell therapeutics finished up their preclinical studies just in time for the company's move to a new home in Kendall Square. Finally, Lumicell (whose technology was initially developed with support from the KI's signature Frontier Research Program) announced significant advancements in their tools for image-guided cancer surgery. Between their latest clinical data, financing, honors, and new collaborations, these companies are well poised to make a difference in the lives of patients.

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