Dr. Grace Wong has worked for Genentech, Millennium, AstraZeneca and Serono on new drug discovery in a variety of therapeutic areas. Dr. Wong did a PhD at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia. In the US, Dr. Wong did a postdoc with Dr. David Goeddel at Genentech and she advanced basic research discoveries to product development in 1993. In 1996, Dr. Wong became the Head of Apoptosis Research at Millennium Pharmaceuticals and identified potential drug resistance genes using functional genomics.
In 1998, she joined AstraZeneca as Section Head of Molecular Genetics and identified potential genes for Alzheimer's disease. Since AstraZeneca was moving to Delaware, Dr. Wong joined Serono in 1999 as Head of Functional Genomics and Director of Cytokine Genomics. She created 17 unique cDNA libraries for discovery of new cytokine genes and discovered several novel functions of cytokines for obesity and women's health. She has been awarded 13 scholarships and received 5 Recognition Awards from Genentech. She was invited to present at 139 international conferences including the Nobel Symposium (Sweden, 1994). She has published 87 papers and filed 27 patents (11 issued). Seven of her publications (3 Nature, 1 Science, and 3 Cell) have received over 500 citations.
Dr. Wong has founded Actokine Therapeutics (www.actokine.com) which will focus on (1) drug rescue (2) drug indication switch and (3) drug advancements for biodefense projects (radioprotection against dirty bomb and protection against a broad spectrum of virus). She has also founded Student Vision for helping the growth of students of all ages in biotech science (www.studentvision.org).
Board of Directors
Louis Tartaglia PhD, Third Rock Ventures, Boston
Dr. Tartaglia is a recognized thought leader in the field of obesity and has authored more than 50 scientific publications. His paper on the cloning of the Leptin receptor was named by the journal Cell as one of the 15 most important papers published by Cell in the last 30 years. Lou was SVP and General Manager of Drug Repositioning and Selection at Gene Logic, a business unit he founded at Millennium when he was VP of New Ventures. He was also VP of Metabolic Diseases at Millennium and Millennium's first employee where he was responsible for programs in obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, wasting disorders, drug resistance and prostate cancer. Dr. Tartaglia received his PhD. in Biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1990. He did a postdoc with Dr. David Goeddel at Genentech where he worked with Dr. Grace Wong.
John Zawad PhD, Vice President:Technology Licensing & Alliances Aventis Pharmaceuticals
Dr. Zawad has over 15 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry in marketing, competitive intelligence, product development and business development. He currently heads up the US office of Technology Licensing and Alliances at Aventis Pharmaceuticals which includes early stage licensing activities in the areas biotechnology, genomics, gene therapy, drug delivery, neuroscience (schizophrenia, affective disorders, sleep disorders, multiple sclerosis and stroke), respiratory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and immunology. Dr. Zawad is also involved in managing Aventis' strategic investments into venture funds. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry (1983) from the University of Tennessee.
Chip Allee CEO, ActoKine Therapeutics.
Mr. Allee was the founder and former CEO of MLR Automation. He negotiated the acquisition of MLR Automation by Oxford Molecular. Prior to forming MLR Automation Mr. Allee was a member of the start-up team for Parnassus Pharmaceuticals under Dr. Michael Venuti. Mr. Allee provided assistance and input for many other start-up activities including establishing Molecular Biology, Organic Chemistry, Computational Chemistry, Analytical Chemistry and Assay Development labs. Mr. Allee also co-founded Syrix Inc. a high throughput screening company. His role included writing business plans, negotiating leases and soliciting funds from Venture Capital firms and Biotech companies. He generated all the pro-forma financials and all the laboratory equipment budgets. Mr. Allee was employed by Genentech, Inc. for four years before starting Syrix. Mr. Allee earned his BS degree in Electronic Engineering from California State University, Fresno. Additionally, Mr. Allee completed extensive course work in Finance, Accounting, Economics and Business Law.
Claude G. Biava MD, Chief Medical Officer, ActoKine Therapeutics.
Dr. Biava has more than 30 years of experience in pre-clinical and clinical research studies. From 1968-1971, as the Director of the Department of Pathology and Toxicology in the Experimental Therapy Division at Abbott Laboratories, he was responsible for pre-clinical safety evaluation of new drug candidates and their approval for clinical testing, preparation of data for submission of INDs and NDAs. As Vice President for R&D and Clinical Research in the Hospital Products Division at Abbott Laboratories from 1971-1973, he was responsible for R&D and clinical studies of hospital products, including anesthetics, intravenous therapeutics, urological products, and intraperitoneal dialysis kits. From 1973 to 1993, he was an Associate Professor and Director of the Laboratory of Ultrastructural and Renal Pathology Services at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Dr. Biava received his M.D. from Louvain University in Belgium and completed his residency as a Royal Canadian Research Fellow at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. He is the author of more than 50 publications.
Robert Allen Lewis MD,Former Sr VP and Site Head for the Aventis Pharmaceuticals, USA
Dr. Robert A. Lewis was educated at Yale (BA, chemistry, 1967), the University of Rochester (MD, 1971), and Harvard (Internship, Residency in Pediatrics, Children's Hospital Med Center; Fellowship in Immunology, Harvard Med. School). After two years as a staff rheumatologist and allergist in the US Air Force, Dr. Lewis joined the faculty of Harvard Med. School, where he remained for over a decade, conducting research on mast cells, prostaglandins and leukotrienes, in collaboration with his department chairman, Dr. K. Frank Austen, a colleague from pulmonary medicine, Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, the Sheldon Emory Professor of Chemistry at Harvard University, Dr. E J Corey, and a number of talented post-doctoral fellows and students. In 1986, Dr. Lewis left Harvard to join Syntex Corporation as director of basic research, from which he advanced to become President of Discovery Research; there, he and his colleagues developed several drugs, including myocophenolate mofetil for prevention of acute transplant rejection, and gancyclovir and valgancyclovir for therapy of cytomegalovirus infections. In 1995, approximately a year after Roche Holdings acquired Syntex, Dr. Lewis moved to Cell Therapeutics in Seattle, as Chief Scientific Officer, where, with his colleagues, he developed polyglutamic acid polymer conjugates with taxanes and other hydrophobic cancer drugs and cloned many of the critical human enzymes involved in the turnover of phospholipids, with focus on their effects in oncogenesis. There, with colleagues, he also began exploring gene expression during T-cell subtype differentiation. In 2000, Dr. Lewis moved to Aventis Pharmaceuticals at the Bridgewater, NJ campus, to create and direct a center for expertise in immunology research, termed the Immunology Platform, which has become the center for expression profiling of human immunocytes at Aventis. For the past six months, Dr. Lewis has also been acting Sr VP and Site Head for the Aventis US Research Site. Dr. Lewis is the author or coauthor of 160 scientific papers and book chapters on cell biology and biochemistry in immediate hypersensitivity and related disorders. He has served on the faculties of Harvard, Stanford, and UCSF medical schools and has been an invited speaker at numerous national and international meetings over the past 25 years, including the invited professorial lectureship of the Japanese Society of Allergology in 1983.
Dr. Grace Wong is no stranger to the world of biotech and the pharmaceutical industry, having worked at Genentech, Millennium, AstraZeneca, and Serono. She received her PhD from the University of Melbourne at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI) of Medical Research, Australia, where she discovered that interferon-g can induce the expression of MHC class II antigens in organs such as the brain, a finding with profound implications for the understanding of auto-immune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. Crossing the Pacific to be a PostDoc and a scientist at Genentech, she discovered that cytokines synergistically enhance the anti-viral activities of interferons in vitro and in vivo. She also studied cytokines mechanisms of action and potential new therapeutic indications. In 1996, Dr. Wong became Head of Apoptosis Research at Millennium Pharmaceuticals where she led an effort to identify drug resistance genes. In 1998, she joined AstraZeneca as Head of Molecular Genetics, working to identify genes for Alzheimer's disease. Since AstraZeneca was moving to Delaware, Dr. Wong joined Serono as the Head of Reproductive Genomics, seeking to discover new cytokines as treatments for obesity and women's diseases. Unable to suppress her entrepreneurial gene, Dr. Wong recently founded ActoKine Therapeutics (http://www.actokine.com).
This article, however, is not about Dr. Wongs past scientific accomplishments nor her new company, ActoKine Therapeutics. It is about her intense desire to help science students of all ages and how she manages to balance her time between family and career. Dr. Wong, who enjoys playing Chinese Zeta and drawing Chinese painting, has recently founded Student Vision, a non-profit organization, to nurture the next generation of biotech scientists and entrepreneurs. She has created a unique forum, the Nobel Pauling Biotech Symposia, held at the MIT Faculty Club in Cambridge, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Hong Kong and will be held in China, India, Geneva, Paris, Australia and Germany etc to help students of all ages (no age limit) and people from academia or small companies to meet people from big pharma industry through sharing of ideas on new biotechnologies. We interviewed Dr. Wong to find out more about Student Vision and the person behind the organization. And, in turn, we were inspired and reminded of our responsibilities as scientists to society and how lucky we are to be working in biotech science.
Tell us about Student Vision.
The Mission of Student Vision is to inspire students of all ages in biotechnology. We want to provide learning opportunities for life-long learners.
We have three goals at Student Vision: The first is to provide opportunities for people from academia, biotechnology companies, and pharmaceutical companies to become acquainted. Acquaintance leads to collaboration, which then leads to business agreements. The second is to encourage the exchange of ideas, cutting-edge developments in biotechnology that might lead to new drug discoveries. The third is to train students of all ages to be innovative scientists. We warmly welcome people of all ages, from novice to expert.
We organize and sponsor many activities. For example, we organize educational seminars by scientists and science entrepreneurs - the Nobel Pauling Biotech Symposia. We are developing a program to teach students with basic laboratory skills, and after which, well recommend them for job opportunities. We coach members in presenting their ideas and provide them with a forum to do so. Eventually, we hope to be in a position to award scholarships to science students. But our work goes beyond professional development. Most importantly, we are building a community of friends and colleagues. For example, we host holiday gatherings on Christmas and Thanksgiving. Much of the work is done by our wonderful volunteers who help run the Pauling Biotech Symposia.
What prompted you to create Student Vision?
Throughout my career I have been very fortunate, and have been helped by many, many people. It is impossible to fully acknowledge the excellent advice and guidance I have received from my mentors. Life has an essence which I feel very strongly, so I will use the metaphor of a plant to describe the relationships I have had with my mentors. Dr. Stephen Graves was the first - he made it possible for me to germinate in Australian soil with the opportunity to study the cure of syphilis. As I sprouted, Dr. Brent Steiner nurtured me with intellectual water and fertilizer enabling me to produce important papers. My scientific seedling continued to grow influenced by the light and support of my WEHI mentor, Dr. John Schrader. He taught me about immunoassays and was the first to introduce me to a cytokine, IFN-g, a gift from Drs. David Goeddel and Pat Gray (Genentech). Quietly, Dr. Ian Clark Lewis showed me his favorite cytokine, IL-3, showing me the fruit of honest and hard work. Sunshine was supplied by Sir Gus Nossal, the father of WEHI, whose always happy, cheerful face has continued to provide me with ongoing support.
I was a young plant when I reached the lab of Dr. David Goeddel at Genentech. He was quick and good hearted, very funny, very fair, even though tough and reserved on the surface. People said that if Grace survived in Goeddel's lab, Grace can survive and thrive anyhere. Dave taught me how to be tough in science, that I should publish only solid important papers. It was so much fun in Goeddel's lab as a PostDoc, working with so many interesting people (just like a new start up); I should write a whole book about it.
My results on mechanisms of cytokine action could go nowhere without in vivo data. Another mentor, Dr. Gordon Vehar at Genentech, taught me to be more conservative scientist and taught me to stay focused on in vivo efficacy. After advancing a preclinical project to development with Gordon in two years, I felt like a sapling stretching towards the sky and decided that it was finally time to leave home like a little bird exploring the world. I chose Millennium because of their hot cutting-edge new biotechnologies. My mentors there, Drs. Lou Tartaglia, Bob Tepper and Mark Levin taught me to focus on science discovery because politics could destroy creative spirit. Like protective shade by my mentors at Serono, Drs. Jim Strickler, Steve Arkinstall and Tim Wells were able to shield me from the rough blows of corporate politics.
My mentors are my good friends, and I am very grateful for their continuing interest in each of my new adventures. I feel that I owe them a lot of recognition and gratitude for all of their support of my endeavors and for helping me build my dreams of my new companies.
Since I have been working on cytokines for so many years, it is not surprising that many of my good friends are people who are also working on cytokines. Like cytokines, we enjoy interacting and communicating, and sometimes even influence each other's behavior! If I invited all my cytokines friends, we could easily fill up the entire room at a Pauling biotech symposium. Dr. Joost Oppenheim has helped me to discover my own hidden talent by saying that "Grace really enjoys giving seminars with such dedication and passion that her infectious enthusiasm is contagious". That is my intention, to help others feel the joy of science. Dr. Howard Young has laughed with me, saying that "Grace announced to the whole world that she is a permanent PostDoc." Dr. Ruth Neta has treated me like family, giving me much love and support.
Now, I want to help others in turn. Life is the art of building and sharing memories; these memories cannot be bought by money. The essential things are invisible and one sees them most clearly with the heart.
Create Linus Pauling Scholarships for Students (no age limit)
My family escaped to Hong Kong from China in a small boat. I would have been abandoned in China at the age of two, but my sister stuffed me into her belongings and tied me to the front of the boat. A government ship chased us, but did not catch our boat because the wind blew our boat very hard all the way to Hong Kong. When I was growing up, we were so poor that we did not have a photo of my father before he died. I never dreamed that I could become a scientist. I worked hard and enjoyed being creative. Then, I was the fortunate recipient of different scholarships supporting me from primary school all the way to my PhD.
There were often very difficult times, but with the constant support of my mentors and good friends, I grew and grew in a variety of capacities, and suddenly, I was in a position to become a scientist. Doing science in biotechnology is one of the best jobs in the world. I feel as if I get paid to take adventures ¨C the adventures of discovering new drugs. I've always longed to be a doctor because of the deaths of my four brothers. But I love science discovery so much and will always do science, even if one day I become very wealthy, I will always do science. Scientific discovery is not only my profession and my dream, its also my hobby, and its really fun.
Ive always wanted to give back, to help other students. Its like giving a seed a chance to sprout. Like many other people, I lost friends on September 11. I was terribly saddened; but I was also awakened. More strongly than ever, I felt the need to do something that I have always wanted to do. There never seems to be an appropriate time, but when you feel your own mortality you know that the time is now. I wanted to give back to the community by creating a scholarship fund. Throughout my working life, I have focused on science, paying little mind to my biotech stock from Millennium and Genentech. So, I have missed several opportunities to be wealthy. Even though I have no money to give, but I still have plenty of ideas to share. With the support of many friends, I gathered my courage, quit my job, and started my two ventures. My twin babies, ActoKine Therapeutics and Student Vision were born in 2003.
How did you come up with the idea of the Nobel Linus Pauling Biotech Symposium?
I knew Dr. Linus Pauling personally. He was one of my very special mentors. He taught me how to speak up if I had ideas. He taught me to see things differently. I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet him and listen to many of his funny stories. Dr. Pauling won two well deserved Nobel Prizes- one in 1954 for Chemistry and another in 1962 for peace. Dr. Pauling was globally admired for his tremendous contributions to chemistry and for advocating peace. Dr. Pauling shared the passion for peace with Albert Einstein. The Student Vision Symposia are in honor of the life and works of Dr. Linus Pauling.
Dr. Linus Pauling Jr., son of the Nobel Prize winner has given me permission to use the name Linus Pauling for Student Vision activities. (See letter of authorization from Dr. Pauling, Jr.) Scientists who were inspired by Dr. Linus Pauling have been happy to be our speakers at our Nobel Pauling Symposia.
Each Nobel Pauling Biotech Symposium is by invitation only. The symposium is free; we do ask that all participants, including speakers, pay for their own dinners. The fee that our speakers pay is actually higher than what some participants pay (for example students, PostDocs, and people who are unemployed). These symposia provide unique opportunities for people who otherwise could not afford to attend commercial biotechnology meetings. Food and drinks are provided throughout the seminars, which gives the event a very friendly atmosphere.
To make networking opportunities plentiful for all attendees, we invite about 150 people. These symposia are an ideal venue for meeting biotechnology and pharmaceutical company executives and decision-makers face-to-face, one-on-one. One student told me that she met and talked with more than 50 biotech and pharma people in one evening, more people in the biotech field than she had ever met before in her life.
How do you get the speakers for the Symposium?
When I was at Genentech, I seemed to be the only scientist without a business card. Many people at conferences gave me their business cards without my asking. At the time, I didnt see the value of these cards, but I have never discarded any of them. Im glad now, having collected over 10,000 business cards in the past ten years. Half of them are still useful; theyre my primary source of contact information to invite speakers to the symposium.
We dont have money to pay for our speakers' travel or hotel expenses, so we create special symposia for speakers who are in Boston for other reasons. These speakers might give the same talk in our symposium right after they give it at another venue. As you might expect, the people (for example Drs. Bob Lewis, Ken Carter and Reinhard Ebner) who will come to give a talk at their own expense are ones who support our mission and vision. In appreciation, speakers are presented with memento gifts: mugs, T-shirts, or posters with a photo of Dr. Linus Pauling. We now have more than 100 confirmed speakers who have agreed to speak at our symposium series at different times throughout the year.
Where is Student Vision at today and what would you like to see improve?
We hope to enlist more sponsors to make the Nobel Pauling Symposia even more successful. We hope that in the future speakers and students do not have to pay for their dinner at a Nobel Pauling Symposium. We hope to produce some biology products that will be purchased by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. We hope to do fee-for-service (assay, reagents etc) for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies and we also hope to transform their trash to treasure for new drug discovery. We may call this ˇ°trash to cashˇ±.
This would allow Student Vision to be financially independent and provide for its continued growth and development of new activities.
I was told that you have two sons and seven daughters?
My two sons, Alexander and Anthony are my friends and my teachers; they teach me how to play. These two little boys (ages six and ten) provide balance in my life and stop me from being totally consumed by scientific discovery.
My seven daughters do not live with me. They are the product of eggs that I donated to my seven women friends who were having fertility problems. I was inspired to do this after I lost a friend when she committed suicide because she couldnt become pregnant. This very sad event also guided me to work on infertility projects at Serono.
It must not be easy to raise children and at the same time have a successful career in science, a field so dominated by men. How did you manage?
I am fortunate to have great support from my husband, my children and my friends who understand and share my mission and vision. I can always lean on my good friends in difficult times and share my joys in good times. I enjoy giving with little expectation of reward.
The security guards often told me that I must be the hardest working scientist ever at Genentech. I slept in my office at Genentech for at least three months. My colleagues called me a free spirit bird who is incapable of selling her soul. I thought that I would be very happy to stay a PostDoc for my rest of my life. I did not take the 401K retirement plan at Genentech. I do not think that I will ever retire because there are so many fun experiments to do.
I work seven days a week and at least 12 hours a day, and I truly enjoy what I do. Four days after I gave birth to my second son by caesarean section, I went back to work at Millennium. The desire in my head to keep working was so strong that I forgot about the pain in my freshly cut belly. I believe that hard work and difficult times can be a tool used to dig a hole. The deeper the hole, the more success and happiness can fill it. Every thing is transient (as Dr. Aliza Eshkol at Serono taught me when I was sad), but we can enjoy what we are doing and make the world better for others.
Working hard is sometimes not enough to keep a job. This is especially true for the biotech and pharmaceutical industries. We have to be creative and to be constantly learning about the newest, cutting-edge techniques just to stay even, much less to get a little ahead. My friend Max Hensley, a lawyer at Genentech, told me that it was a pleasure and easy for him to file patents for the name Grace Wong, because the claims made were always so unobvious. He liked to describe them as ˇ®discovered by serendipity. Giampiero De Luca, Dr. Steve Arkinkstall and Dr. Tim Wells from Serono appreciated and supported my creative imagination or innovative notions (5 patents in 3 years).
Dr. Silvano Fumero and Ernesto Bertarelli, also at Serono, encouraged me to run with my creative ideas having faith that my efforts would yield important, useful and valuable results. With their enthusiastic support, I felt like a bird flying free in the sky to wherever my curiosity would lead me.
If your company believes your ideas will one day add value to the bottom line, the company will support you. This is important ¨C to see ones job as a friendship and a partnership with your employer and coworkers. You can be a productive scientist as long as you are creative, hardworking, healthy, happy, and helpful to others (even when we are 99 years old).
Whats next for Grace Wong?
I think about the real meaning of success. Many people become rich and famous, but if they do not help others and give back to the community, then theyre not entirely successful. I want to create a commercial enterprise where people can learn and be useful. I want my enterprise to be an engine for creating jobs (even for people who have not had a chance to be educated). I believe that every individual has potential, and, like a dormant seed, and should have a chance to grow. I want to plant as many seeds as I can in the soil with no expectation for return.
I want to help to discover the diamonds in the rough and create opportunities for young scientists to meet biotechnology experts.
I want to help establish a foundation that would grant Linus Pauling Scholarships to creative students from around the world who lack financial means for bioscience education. Creating or building an endowment will allow the Pauling Symposium series to grow and help more creative students in biotech science.
I hope that one day ActoKine Therapeutics can discover new uses for some of the failed or the existing drugs in biotechnology and pharmaceutical company portfolios. Payments from milestones and royalties generated by these drugs will provide ActoKIne Therapeutics with the ability to endow Student Vision.
If you support our mission and want to become our speakers, sponsors, volunteers, or participates, please contact Student Vision.
When we do experiments, we wait for the data. When we grow a fruit tree, we wait for the fruits. Science is data; finding it; looking at it, thinking about it. For much of the world data seems quite dull, but for the scientist, data contains hidden within it small sparks which can set the imagination on fire. Each spark of data generates new ideas, new seeds, which will grow in yet undiscovered gardens of research. If we know our own intentions well, there will always be ideas and seeds enough for our grand grand children to harvest and sow again to make the world a little more beautiful each morning.
Home | Mission | Registration | Sponsors | Job Strategies | News, Events, Contact
Biotech Booth | Event Photos | Nobel Day | Dr. Linus Pauling | Who's Who
Pauling Biotech Symposium | Symposium Agenda | Symposium Speakers | Symposium Testimonials
Founder & Board of Directors | Scientific Advisory Committee | Scholarship Application