Vermont Biosciences Alliance Winter Newsletter

Winter Newsletter 
VBSA was created to foster recognition of medicine and bioscience as a leading industry in the Vermont region and promote economic and human well-being by strengthening sector attention, research resources, and venture growth. To the businesses and organizations who are currently members, thank you for supporting the bioscience industry in Vermont.

Coming soon! Keep an eye on the VBSA website for this year's BioBeer dates. All BioBeers are held from 5:00 to 7:00 pm at Queen City Brewery, 703B Pine Street, Burlington. Registration will be available on our events page:  VBSA Events.
11th Annual Vermont Brain Bee
A day of neuroscience competition and exploration for high school students held on Saturday, February 15th at the Larner College of Medicine, UVM.
Vermont Brain Bee
Vermont Genetics Network Career Day:
VGN's annual career day will be held on April 1st at the Delta Hotels by Marriott in South Burlington. Check here for details to come: VGN Career Day
15th Annual Invention2Venture Conference:
Save the date for UVM Office of Technology Commercialization's popular conference! April 2nd at the Davis Center, UVM.
State of Possible Conference:
MassBio's 2020 Annual Meeting will focus on achievements in the bioscience industry over the past ten years. The keynote speaker will be Billy Starr, founder of the Pan-Mass challenge raising funds for cancer research. March 25-26th at the Royal Sonesta, Cambridge, MA.
Industry News
The Vermont BioSciences Alliance is Partnering with MassBio to Bring Members New England Edge: 
VBSA has partnered with MassBio to expand our discount program. Now you can enjoy even greater savings from a wider variety of partners than ever before. New England Edge is available exclusively to VBSA members, and access is free with your membership. Best of all? Every deal has been pre-negotiated to save you time and money, so there's no complicated number crunching required. You can access the program from the VBSA website or here:
Allergan and Avitide Expand Partnership to Develop Custom Affinity Chromatography Technologies:
Last month Avidtide announced a partnership expansion with Allergan. Avitide will be using their proprietary affinity chromatography technologies on behalf of Allergan with the goal of improving medicine manufacturing.
Education News
Team Builds the First Living Robots:
UVM roboticists used a supercomputer to design living, programmable machines, which were assembled and tested by collaborators at Tufts. Just one millimeter wide, the "xenobots" can move to specific locations, heal themselves, and potentially carry substances such as medicine. Their creators envision the xenobots might clean up microplastics or travel through patient arteries to do micro-scale repairs.
Vermont is a member of the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program, which seeks to broaden the geographic distribution of NIH funding for biomedical research. The IDeA-state entrepreneurship program (I-Trep) is a new NIH-supported education program based in Vermont. Continuing with our mission to provide training and education in biomedical entrepreneurship, the I-Trep program is offering paid specialized internships for 2019-2020. The internships aim to provide career development for faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and students from any Vermont-based academic institution and foster business-research collaborations within Vermont.

Eligible hosts include any bioscience-based business or other businesses such as law offices or consultant firms that support the bioscience community. Terms of the internship are meant to be flexible to accommodate the desired career skill development or business-research partnership goals. The intern will be paid through the I-Trep grant and internships will be a maximum of 12 weeks in duration. Host organizations may submit nominations for candidates who they have already identified or contact the program to see if there are any candidates that fit the host organization's needs.

If your organization would like to participate, please contact Tina Thornton (, coordinator for the I-Trep program, for more information.
Talking About Gene Therapy Over Beers at Queen City Brewery

It's the VBSA's 2019 holiday BioBeer at Queen City Brewery with the usual enthusiastic bio and tech crowd. A small group of us duck past the bar to circle up on the production floor. We're a mixed group, from former IBMers with no background in biotech, to a PhD candidate conducting her own research into a variety of 21st century biotechnologies. We're looking for a little peace and quiet to hear Russell Beste, Vice President of Industry Affairs for the VBSA, talk about gene therapy (GT).

GT is a relatively new therapy that remarkably enables the ability to fix a person with genetic disease by inserting copies of the DNA permanently into a patients stem cells. In this way, a person born with defective DNA can be fixed (rather than continuously treating their symptoms arising from their defective DNA, throughout their lives).

This remarkable therapy is just being commercialized for the first time, and are now beginning to be approved by the FDA and EMA. This field is rapidly expanding, and there are now over 250 GT products in Phase II clinic and beyond. "Usually we scale commercial biotechnology product using large stainless steel vessels, like that," says Russell, pointing to one of the large, gleamingly pristine stainless steel beer vessels that surround us. "For GT however, each patient provides their own raw materials, so the challenge is not to scale up but rather scale out thousands of small manufacturing processes, each one dedicated solely to a particular individual using their own raw material ("their own DNA").

Russell explains the basic idea "modern" manufacturing process behind lentiviral vector, an important gene therapy technique that is modified to provide a gene delivery. The goal of gene therapy is to replace broken or missing DNA in a patient's cells in order to cure a genetic disease. But under normal circumstances, cells don't want to pick up strange DNA. If there's anything that's good at sneaking DNA into cells, it's lentiviruses (HIV is a notable member of this group). Scientists use the envelope, basically the empty shell, of lentivirus to sneak DNA into a patient's stem cells.

Russell then dives deep into the manufacturing steps needed to make this all happen through several discrete steps: 1) a plasmid DNA is created that contains critical gene sequences including the gene of interest (GOI), then subsequently scaled up to create multiple copies of a variety of genetic sequences including the GOI; 2) in a separate subsequent operation, the plasmid with the GOI, along with other plasmids containing various genetic sequences that code for LentiVector (LV) are grown and multiplied using HEK cells, which become transfected and in the process of being transfected created millions of LentiViral Particles (containing the LV shell (the LV shell is similar in composition to the shell of an aids virus and as such is very good at getting DNA into a human being's stem cells), along with critical DNA plasmids coding to help the patient); 3) the patient stem cells are removed, then grown in the presence of the LV particles, which transduce the patient stem cells by using the LV shell to enter the stem cell and deposit critical DNA sequences including the GOI intended to fix the patient. During this time, the GOI inserts itself into the patients stem cells, thereby transducing the patient stem cell to now produce and copy the previously defective GOI; 4) The transduced stem cells that now contain the GOI are then injected back into the patient, thereby permanently "fixing" the patient!

If all goes well, the patient's cells will incorporate the new DNA, often a functional copy of a gene that is "broken" or missing in the patient, and new cells with the new DNA will proliferate in their body, correcting their illness. Gene therapy is a whopping half million per treatment, but it permanently cures diseases that have long been uncurable.

While gene therapy can be a miracle cure for debilitating diseases, its fundamentally patient-focused model presents unique manufacturing challenges. Every treatment is essentially unique, since stem cells from each specific patient are part of the treatment, making gene therapies difficult to mass produce. The shelf life for a treatment is currently often just 12-24 hours, so shipping from a single manufacturing location may be prohibitive.

The former IBM engineers ask about the legal ramifications of manufacturing and quality control processes with gene therapies. How do patents work on a technology were each version of the product is a one-off? Is each patient case a patent? Russell explains that so far everyone is working on a generous basis because of the huge opportunity gene therapy breakthroughs represent. "It's going to change the world for sure," he sums up with confidence. "Though the field is ripe for many new scale up technologies that will make this currently very expensive therapy more practical and affordable."

Keep an eye out for more bioscience talks led by the VBSA! Dates TBD and posted on our events page.
Membership:  Have friends at other businesses that are interested in bioscience and entrepreneurship in Vermont? Invite them to join the VBSA! Joining the VBSA sends a message of support for Vermont bioscience companies and organizations.   Click here   for more on the benefits of joining the VBSA and to sign up.
News: If your business has announcements, milestones, or projects they would like to share with the VBSA community, please get in touch with us! You can email your news and information to
Call for Seminars: The VBSA is always interested in hosting new workshops and seminars! You can suggest seminar ideas to Rachel Sargent Mirus at
Twitter:  Connect with VBSA on Twitter at
Member Benefit
New Member Benefit:

Check out our new New England Edge page on the VBSA website Purchasing tab!

New England Edge logo