SciCafe: Snapshots of four Hot Boston Labs

Posted June 16th, 2011 in Boston Cluster

A great group of four researchers shared updates on their lab’s recent findings at this morning’s SciCafe in Boston.   Cancer, autoimmunity, stem cells – lots of great science.

For those that don’t know SciCafe, here’s the background: Nature Biotech’s editor Andy Marshall and I conceived of and launched SciCafe four years ago with the simple goal of increasing the connectivity of researchers with the local biotech venture ecosystem.  We convene the meeting, which is only slightly more formal than a journal club, three times per year and have now showcased nearly 40 investigators over the past few years.  Never more than 25 or so attendees, it’s a small gathering biased towards networking and discussing science.   Goodwin Procter, Merck, and J&J help sponsor the event.  Its now been replicated in San Fran and London.

Here’s the scoop on today’s great presentors:

1. Stephen Elledge (Harvard Medical School).  Autoantigen discovery with a synthetic human peptidome. Elledge, a veteran in the RNAi field and display technologies, has come up with a unique way of presenting the human peptidome and screening against it.  Using overlapping 36-mer peptides that represent the open reading frames of the genome, he’s made libraries that can be screened.  The application he talked about today was for screening autoimmune disorders for self-directed antibodies, where he’s identified a bunch of novel auto-antigens.  Technology has real potential for screening protein:protein interactions.

2. James Bradner (Harvard and DFCI).  Selective inhibition of bromodomains.  Bradner highlighted his latest work on bromodomains, the “readers” of the acetyl-lysine tags that HATs/HDACs write/erase on chromatin.  Published last fall, he’s identified a series of small molecule inhibtors of BRD4, a target involved in several cancers and other diseases.  He’s recently spun out a company on this topic – Tensha – that is backed by Lilly and Healthcare Ventures.  A deal that got away from Atlas, sadly…

3. Nebeel Bardeesy (MGH).  Polycomb repressor complex modulation by histone demethylases.  Bardeesy’s work focuses on how cancer cells de-differentiate towards “stemness” to become more aggressive.  Appears this is regulated in part through the reactivation of polycomb repressor complexes by novel histone demethylases.  Cool yet-to-be published work.  Very exciting as possible drug targets.

4. Loren Walensky (Dana Farber). Pharmacologic modulation of the BAX pro-apoptotic pathway.  Walensky profiled the apoptotic pathway and the balance between cell survival and cell death.  Too much of either is a bad thing.  Having founded Aileron with Greg Verdine to develop peptide-based modulators of various apoptotic targets, he’s now screening for unique small molecules that might activate BAX, a key pro-death mediator, as a treatment for cancer.  Clearly very interesting work.

its worth noting that this group of four, selected by the Nature Biotech and Nature Medicine teams, were picked because of their recent high profile journal articles – but they also represent a set of serial academic entrepreneurs with founding roles or connections to Aileron, Shape, Acetylon, Mirimus, AVEO, and many others.  A great group to get to know.

If you are interested in attending, reach out to Victor Alamo-Bethancourt ( about the next SciCafe.  October 13th in Boston!

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