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Barnett Institute celebrates 40 years of scientific breakthroughs

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by Angela Herring

This year marks the 40th anniver­sary of the founding of Northeastern’s Bar­nett Insti­tute of Chem­ical and Bio­log­ical Analysis, a mile­stone that was hon­ored last week at a day­long con­fer­ence on campus. During its 40-​​year his­tory, the insti­tute has pio­neered break­throughs in biotech­nology, forensic sci­ence, and advanced mate­rials study.

The con­fer­ence wel­comed industry and aca­d­emic leaders from around the world; cur­rent and former stu­dents and fac­ulty of the insti­tute; and Laurie Werner and Eliott Bar­nett, chil­dren of Lou and Madlyn Bar­nett, who endowed the insti­tute in 1983.

Through its four decades of research, the Bar­nett Insti­tute has made sev­eral major sci­en­tific advance­ments in its field, including the devel­op­ment of new ana­lyt­ical tech­niques and instru­men­ta­tion, a major ana­lyt­ical con­tri­bu­tion to the Human Genome Project, and the dis­covery of novel bio­markers for cancer. Recently, Bar­nett researchers have been devel­oping the next gen­er­a­tion of phar­ma­ceu­tical analysis to accom­mo­date the increas­ingly com­plex biosim­ilar drugs now flooding the market.

Among the institute’s pri­mary goals is a focus on indus­trial part­ner­ships. “We’ve believed for a long time that industry and acad­emia have to come closer together, and there’s a lot of com­mon­ality between them,” said Barry Karger, the institute’s founding director.

Left to right: Christoph West­phal, Bar­nett Insti­tute director Barry Karger, Noubar Afeyan, Dieter Hoehn, Jonathan Fleming, Peter Bar­rett, and Col­lege of Sci­ence dean Murray Gibson. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Left to right: Christoph West­phal, Bar­nett Insti­tute director Barry Karger, Noubar Afeyan, Dieter Hoehn, Jonathan Fleming, Peter Bar­rett, and Col­lege of Sci­ence dean Murray Gibson. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

To honor that tra­di­tion, the insti­tute estab­lished the Dieter and Inge Hoehn lec­ture series in 1999. Hoehn, a long time Bar­nett col­lab­o­rator, was vice pres­i­dent and head of ana­lyt­ical prod­ucts at Hewlett Packard for many years.

As part of the anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, the annual Hoehn lec­ture wel­comed four life sci­ence ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists to dis­cuss the role of academic-​​driven inno­va­tion in the suc­cess of biotech­nology star­tups. The experts com­prised Bar­nett alumnus and Celera co-​​founder Peter Bar­rett; Long­wood Fund founder and partner Christoph West­phal; Oxford Bio­sciences man­aging partner Jonathan Fleming; and Noubar Afeyan, founder andCEO of Flag­ship Ventures.

“More and more, we’re working closely with uni­ver­si­ties to trans­late sci­ence,” said Bar­rett, a partner at Atlas Ven­tures, a Boston-​​based life sci­ences and tech ven­ture cap­ital firm. “If you look at the ecosystem we live in, the pharma and biotech com­pa­nies need a pipeline; the aca­d­emic insti­tu­tions can only take things so far. We sit in the middle of that par­a­digm, being the trans­la­tors of taking things out of aca­d­emic insti­tu­tions and building com­pa­nies around them.”

Bar­rett, West­phal, and Afeyan dis­cussed their sup­port of startup com­pa­nies, which take the “big idea,” as West­phal put it, out of the aca­d­emic lab and turn it into a product or tech­nology with soci­etal impact. Fleming noted the crit­ical tri­umvi­rate that makes that process pos­sible in this country: acad­emia, industry, and government.

“Almost every­thing that you’ve heard so far,” said Fleming, refer­ring to the speeches given by his col­leagues, “are ideas and tech­niques and methods and tech­nolo­gies that orig­i­nated in a uni­ver­sity and were paid for by fed­eral funding.”

Going from a big idea to a com­mer­cial drug requires the exper­tise of more than six dozen people with dif­ferent skill sets, according to Fleming. “A number of those key skill sets,” he said, “are ones that come out of the Bar­nett Institute.”

In closing, Fleming praised the insti­tute. “Bar­nett has indeed become a leader in its field,” he said, noting Karger’s unpar­al­leled con­tri­bu­tion to its success.

After the sym­po­sium, the guests gath­ered in the Fenway Center for a gala cel­e­bra­tion in honor of the institute’s anniver­sary and Karger’s 50 years of ser­vice to North­eastern. As part of the cel­e­bra­tion, alumni and friends, including the Bar­nett Family, announced a new effort to estab­lish the Karger Prize in Bio­an­a­lyt­ical Chemistry.

Originally published in news@Northeastern on May 2, 2013.

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