Want some evidence of magic? Think of all the things humans have accomplished in the last century - especially in healthcare. We’ve eradicated smallpox, mapped the human genome, and just last week I read an article about the first ever successful genital transplant! Of course, I know all of this is not actually magic. It’s something even better. It’s science!
An area of science that has assisted in making all these advancements possible is biotechnology. Biotechnology, or "biotech", is a field of research that exploits the living organisms and biological systems found in nature.
As a recent biotech masters grad, I recently moved across the world from New Zealand, to Massachusetts-- home to one of the world’s largest and most successful biotech superclusters.
My background is a little scattered but here’s the short version: I started working with New Zealand startup companies in my final year of grad school and fell in love. In an attempt to experience this ecosystem on a greater scale, I decided to spend some time working in a startup in the US. The plan is to absorb as much knowledge about #startuplife as I can, before returning home to NZ to continue working in our own awesome tech community.
Although I’m not currently working in a biotech, living in Massachusetts means I’m surrounded by the techie science scene. Cambridge, especially, is a hotspot for up-and-coming biotech startups. This is no surprise considering both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University are housed here.
In fact Cambridge is home to 6 of the BioSpace “Top 30 Life Science Startups To Watch In The US”. As well as this, startups in neighboring towns of Newtown, Watertown, Duxbury and Beverly also make the list, resulting in a third of the companies listed residing in the Greater Boston Area. If you're interested in getting involved in biotech, Massachusetts is definitely a good place to start.[bctt tweet="Massachusetts is a great place to start if you're looking to get into biotech says @monique_lees"]
I’ve briefly summarised some key take-aways from each of these biotech startups. *Spoiler alert* you’ll notice they’re all operating in healthcare which, unsurprisingly, is the area of biotech that Massachusetts most excels in.
Dimension TherapeuticsNumber: 8/30 Location: Cambridge Editing human genes to develop treatments for rare diseases.
NextCode HealthNumber: 10/30 Location: Cambridge Tools for the analysis and management of large genetic databases.
Navitor PharmaceuticalsNumber: 12/30 Location: Cambridge Altering cell-growth and function to develop medicine for a wide range of diseases.
Jounce TherapeuticsNumber: 14/30 Location: Cambridge Using the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells.
Editas MedicineNumber: 15/30 Location: Cambridge Editing human genes to develop treatments for rare diseases.
AlcrestaNumber: 20/30 Location: Newton Developing enzyme-based nutritional products to improve nutrition and disease management.
Syros Pharmaceuticals Number: 22/30 Location: Watertown Developing therapeutics that control the regulation of disease-causing genes.
Synchroneuron Number: 25/30 Location: Duxbury Developing new therapies for movement disorders such as Tardive Diskinesia.
Thrive BioscienceNumber: 26/30 Location: Beverly Develop analytical and automation technology for use in life science laboratories.
CydanNumber: 29 Location: Cambridge Accelerator for companies focused on developing therapies for rare diseases.
[bctt tweet="The MA supercluster is home to 10/30 of @biospace top biotech companies to watch says @monique_lees"]
Voyager Therapeutics: Gene therapy
Unum Therapeutics: Cancer cell therapy
Intellia Therapeutics: Gene editing
Synlogic: Synthetically engineered microbes
Emulate Inc: Organs on chips
Yes you read that right - Organs on chips!! Check out this TED talk about how it works from the company’s Chief Scientific Officer, Geraldine Hamilton
[bctt tweet="Organs-on-chips?@wyssinstitute's Emulate is one of many great MA biotech startups says @monique_lees"]
The great thing about biotechnology is it marries science with a variety of other disciplines, from business, to law, and even politics. Although healthcare is the primary application discussed above, there are so many more areas that biotechnology can be applied to, including food and agriculture, environmental science and even engineering. [bctt tweet="Biotech allows for collaboration across science, business + politics says @monique_lees"]
For those of you in software-- wheeling and dealing in the fast-paced worlds of front-end and back-end development-- you may be thinking that biotech doesn’t sound like a particularly exciting industry to be a part of. Sure, things in biotech tend to move a little slower than most of the tech giants in Silicon Valley, and you probably won’t find a slide in many biotech companies' headquarters.
What you will find however, is collaboration across the world, between bright and creative minds, trying to find solutions to some of the toughest challenges faced on Earth today.
And maybe even a little bit of magic.