HUBweek Change Maker: Geraldine Hamilton
Geraldine Hamilton, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer, Emulate, Inc.
As President and Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate, Inc., Geraldine Hamilton works on the cutting edge of biotech. A drug development researcher and pioneer of Organs-on-Chips technology, Geraldine’s career has spanned corporate, startup, and academic settings. In her newest role, she’s leveraging human biology to understand how disease, medicine, chemicals, and food affect human health and is tackling the commercialization of Organs-on-Chips and other technologies to drive the acceleration and discovery of new drug candidates.
You have an extensive background in drug discovery and development. What first led you to engage in this space, and what continues to inspire you? I’ve always had a personal drive to understand human health and how new biomedical discoveries can be translated to positively affect an individual. I was fortunate to work towards my Ph.D. in conjunction with GlaxoSmithKline. This experience provided a wonderful mix of academic research and translational science with commercial thinking at a very early stage of my career, which I then expanded on at AstraZeneca and Harvard. Today, I continue to apply those principles learned from academia and industry to bring together incredible scientists, designers, and engineers from across disciplines in order to advance novel technological advances that have the potential to broadly impact human health, as well as, individual patients. I find tremendous inspiration in seeing how our teams solve problems that seem impossible: their innovation, resourcefulness, dedication, teamwork and perseverance are truly inspirational!
When you’re explaining what Organs-On-Chips are to someone who is completely green to the subject, how do you summarize what the technology does? In the broadest sense, the Organs-on-Chips technology recreates living human biology inside tiny micro-engineered environments. Each Organ-Chip — such as the lung, brain or liver — contain thousands of tiny living human cells. Each chip is about the size of a AA battery, and effectively reproduces the natural habitat & physiology that cells experience within the human body. In other words we create a “home away from home for the cells.” The technology provides a human-relevant platform that is designed to recreate and predict what happens inside the living human body. Our system of Organ-Chips, Instrumentation and Software Apps provide researchers and product development teams across many industries an alternative to using cells-in-dishes or animal testing — the technology offers a better way understand how diseases, medicines, chemicals and foods affect human health.
This technology now falls under Emulate, the organization of which you are President and Chief Scientific Officer. What insights have you gleaned from transitioning to a startup setting from an academic one? How has your role changed? Taking the lead on translating the Organs-on-Chips technology at the Wyss Institute was a natural extension and brought together of my experiences and learnings from my career. The Wyss was established to specifically translate disruptive technologies into commercial applications through a new model of innovation, collaboration and technology translation. Our multidisciplinary team consisted of a blend of scientists, engineers, designers and entrepreneurs from academia and industry and we were in the unique position of being able to incubate the technology in an ecosystem where the resources required to translate the technology for broad impact were not an issue. So the transition from developing the technology at the Wyss Institute to Emulate has been quite seamless as we already had such a strong focus on building the company, translating the technology and commercialization. In fact, our core team of 20 people from the Wyss moved to create Emulate which allowed us to preserve our creative innovative culture, transferring critical know-how and expertise, and installing a purposeful mission of genuinely wanting to commercialize the technology in order to positively affect human health. This unique model and the drive of our team was crucial in propelling Emulate to where it is today.
For me personally, my role from leading the Organs-on-Chips team at the Wyss to becoming President & Chief Scientific Officer of Emulate has required me to keep innovating the technology at a very fast pace, whilst also working with many new academic and commercial collaborators on a variety of organ and disease models to create our new ‘Human Emulation System’ and execute on the commercial strategy of the company. My role at Emulate has expanded to include not only the ongoing scientific operations, which include research and development, but I contribute to overall company strategic and financial planning, help drive the commercialization of the technology, provide long-term strategic scientific direction, establish key partnerships and manage the scientific expectations of investors, clients and collaborators.
Your current goal is to gain efficiencies in the drug discovery and development process. By using your technology, what do you feel are the greatest benefits to patients? For patients, the Organs-on-Chips technology will help drive the acceleration and discovery potential new drug candidates that can directly impact patients by providing safer and more efficacious drugs. By finding which drug candidate will be safe and will have the most efficacious impact on patients much earlier in the design process, we can help to reduce the time and cost of drug development and get more new therapies into the hands of patients. I am also personally very interested in adopting the technology for individual patients, which would allow us to better understand the underlying biology associated with specific diseases and potentially explore not only custom treatments but also preventative measures for health and wellness.
It’s also been noted that Organs-On-Chips technologies have the potential to be the next breakthrough in precision medicine. What excites you most about the possibility of this type of application? As mentioned previously, being able to design personalized treatments specific to population groups or even individual patients is very exciting for everyone at Emulate and also at our commercial collaborators. We’re already working with clinical partners to use a patient’s own cells and genome to configure individualized human-chips. We’re looking at how these personalized chips can be used to potentially design holistic wellness plans, preventative care and personalized drugs to optimize health on a very personal level for each patient.
If widespread commercial adoption of Organs-On-Chips technologies were to occur, what opportunities or benefits might the average healthcare consumer experience? What challenges might stop this from happening, and what role would you have in overcoming them? Our goal is to have our Organs-on-Chips technology be the starting point for all biological and biomedical research. By using the Organs-on-Chips technology companies will be able to understand not only efficacy or safety endpoints but the underlying biology driving these endpoints which means that the average consumer will have a greater selection of better drugs, therapeutics, cosmetics, food, chemicals and products. We also want to democratize access to this technology and provide the opportunity for every person to be able to understand their own body in a way never possible before, so that they can take control and manage their own health more effectively. Since the beginning, we have been working with a broad range of clinicians, academic researchers, government regulators and commercial partners across many industries to really lay the foundation for how everyone can work together in a new collaborative ecosystem to bring this new technology to market and benefit as many people as possible.
What’s next for Emulate, and for you? Our team is currently finalizing our first ‘lab-ready’ products — this will include a simple to use, plug-n-play suite of Organ-Chips, Instrumentation and Software Apps that can be used by any researcher or product development team without them requiring specialized scientific or engineering skills. We will be introducing our new products to market with the intention of enabling every researcher to do novel and exciting human biology and disease research, or to directly create new medicines, chemicals and foods that can positively affect human health. In addition to continuing to grow the product portfolio, Emulate will continue to cross-over between biotech and high-tech applications to explore big data and precision medicine applications of our technology.
Interested in learning more about what’s next in biotech? Go behind the scenes during Inside Kendall Square at HUBweek 2016 and discover what else is on Geraldine and Emulate’s mind by visiting Emulate’s Insights page. Geraldine was recently quoted as a Change Maker in HUBweek’s 2016 Preview featured in The Boston Globe.
The HUBweek Change Maker series showcases the most creative and inventive minds in art, science, and technology making an impact in Boston and around the world.