Category: Alumni Spotlight
Congratulations to Rebecca Benham Vautour, Ph.D., on being selected for the ASPET Washington Fellows Program [HPA]. Dr. Benham Vautour, a post-doctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Genetic Neuropharmacology at McLean Hospital, is one of 10 selected from across the U.S. to participate in this program. She graduated from with a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Neuroscience from the Program in Biomolecular Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine in 2012. As a graduate student in the Laboratory of Translational Epilepsy under the mentorship of Dr. Shelley J. Russek, Dr. Benham Vautour’s graduate research thesis was on bdnfAND jak/stat: Partners in Seizure-Induced GABA-A Receptor Down Regulation.” Her research at McLean’s focuses on the role of GABA-A in depression.
Dr. Sophie Desbiens, formerly Principal Associate at Decision Resources, has accepted a position as Assistant Director for Adaptive Licensing at MIT’s Center for Biomedical Innovation in the New Drug Development Paradigms (NEWDIGS) program.
According to the NEWDIGS website, the program “is a unique collaborative ‘think and do’ tank focused on enhancing the capacity of the global biomedical innovation system to more reliable and sustainably deliver new, better, affordable therapeutics to the right patients faster.
By bringing together diverse collaborators within a safe haven setting, and leveraging MIT expertise in systems engineering, this group is well positioned to inform and enable meaningful high-impact change involving the coordinated evolution of technologies, processes, policies, and people required to achieve its mission.”
Dr. Sophie Desbiens completed her dissertation work under the mentorship of Dr. David H. Farb, Professor and Chair of Pharmacology, in the Laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology and graduated in 2009. The title of her dissertation was “Therapeutic Agents for Cocaine Addiction: A Systems Pharmacology Approach.”
Congrats on the new position, Sophie!
Kenneth J. Rhodes, Ph.D., Vice President of Neurology Discovery at Biogen Idec and an alumni of the Boston University Pharmacology Training Program, led the team of researchers that developed Tecfidera, an oral medication that defends against relapsing Multiple Sclerosis (MS).
The Food and Drug Administration recently approved Tecfidera, also known as dimethyl fumarate, for treating relapsing multiple sclerosis. This new drug delays progression of physical disability and slows the development of brain lesions associated with MS. It also reduces the inflammation caused when the immune system attacks myelin, which ultimately results in less damage to myelin in the body. In a Biogen Idec press release, Dr. Kenneth Rhodes stated that, “these exciting results support further research, as the data suggest that neublastin may have the potential to promote sensory neuronal regeneration and functional recovery following injury. The neublastin program is part of Biogen Idec’s commitment to innovative neurological science and discovery.”
According to the Boston Business Journal, Tecfidera “tops the list of the biggest potential revenue-generating drugs launched so far this year in the U.S., with expected sales of $2.9 billion by 2018.”
Dr. Kenneth Rhodes joined Biogen Idec in May 2007 after spending ten years in the Neuroscience Department at Wyeth, where he also led neurodegeneration drug discovery teams researching MS among epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. He served as a postdoctoral trainee under the mentorship of Dr. David H. Farb, Professor and Chair of Pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine, from 1992-1993. Dr. Rhodes has published over 50 research papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature, Neuron, and the Journal of Neuroscience and most recently was the Keynote Speaker for the 2013 BU-Pfizer Symposium on “Therapeutic Innovation: Oxidative Stress and the Next Generation of Discovery” held November 5, 2013.
Dr. Matthew Whittaker completed his undergraduate studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA in 2000 with a B.A. in Biology. He joined the laboratory of Molecular Neurobiology in the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Boston University School of Medicine in 2003, where he studied in the Program in Biomedical Neuroscience under the mentorship of Dr. David Farb. His Ph.D. research centered on investigating the effects of neuroactive steroids on neurotransmitter release from isolated axon terminals (synaptosomes/synaptoneurosomes) derived from rat brain. The research project demonstrated that pregnenolone sulfate, at pM concentrations, enhances the release of [3H]dopamine, but not [14C]glutamate or [3H]GABA, from rat striatal synaptosomes via an NMDA receptor dependent mechanism. Dr. Whittaker was the recipient of the Henry I. Russek Student Achievement Award in 2009.
Following his Ph.D. thesis defense in 2009, Dr. Whittaker joined the laboratory of Dr. Jean Wrathall as a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. Here, his research interests shifted toward investigation of therapies for spinal cord injury. Working in collaboration with Acorda Therapeutics, Inc., the research found that administration of the neuregulin glial growth factor 2 (GGF2) improves long term functional recovery in both rat and mouse models of contusive spinal cord injury. This work led to the filing of a provisional patent application in 2010. Dr. Whittaker’s research was supported in part by a Craig H. Neilsen Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship Grant and he was also a co-investigator on a Department of Defense Spinal Cord Injury Research Program (SCIRP) grant.
Dr. Whittaker left the field of academic research in September, 2011 to accept a position as a Pharmacology/Toxicology Reviewer in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Rheumatology Products (DPARP) at the United States Food and Drug Administration in Silver Spring, MD. In this capacity, Dr. Whittaker works with teams of medical officers, chemists, statisticians, and clinical pharmacologists to critically review and evaluate the data submitted with Investigational New Drug applications (INDs), New Drug Applications (NDAs) and Biologics License Applications (BLAs). He was recently honored by having his abstract highlighted by the Society for Neuroscience as of special interest and for a press release to the media. He also serves on the Center for Drug Evaluation and Review (CDER) Neurotoxicology Subcommittee.
Dr. Leach received a 1st class honor degree in cellular and molecular science from Anglia Ruskin University in the U.K. in 1989 and worked under Dr. Tim Crowe at the Clinical Research Center in Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, UK as part of the UK Medical Research Council. He studied under Dr. David H. Farb and was awarded the Ph.D. in Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics from Boston University School of Medicine in 1997.
Upon graduating, Dr. Leach served as a consultant at CuraGen Corporation, designing structure and build out informatics, and, soon after, became Vice President for Informatics. His work at CuraGen spanned the entire pharma research and development continuum and included informatics strategy, design, implementation, support, and integration across basic research, pre-clinical, development, clinical, and regulatory functions. He was also responsible for corporate IT at CuraGen.
In 2005, Dr. Leach joined Booz Allen Hamilton as a Principal. At Booz Allen he worked with the partnership to establish and build out the PharmaIT practice. This spanned the entire pharma value chain with projects such as post-merger integration, IT strategy, informatics strategy, organizational change and design.
Dr. Leach became Executive Director of Basic Research & Biomarker IT at Merck in 2007. At Merck, he worked with leadership in Basic Research to develop and manage a portfolio of research applications and systems and high performance computing infrastructure to support target ID through lead optimization. Biomarker IT support reaches beyond Basic Research and with tight collaboration with Clinical Development IT delivers IT solutions to enable and support Translational Research.
In May, 2011, Dr. Leach assumed the role as Chief Information Officer at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, where he will be leading IT and computational instrastructure.
Dr. Leach is interested in providing scientists greater access to all forms of information with the end goal of expediting their research. He has over a decade of industry experience managing highly technical software engineers and IT professionals.