Robert Langer - MIT

Biotech's inspirational academic entrepreneur

Name: Robert Langer
Title: David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT

In biotech, Bob Langer stands out as the quintessential academic entrepreneur, with dozens of companies to his name. The MIT inventor has also inspired many smart people inside and outside of his lab to follow his lead.

A chemical engineer, Langer has had a hand in oodles of bioscience inventions, and his MIT lab has become a central hub of innovation for drug delivery and materials science. Some hard-core academics might bristle at working with industry. But Langer has deftly straddled both those worlds and blueprinted how professors can play a role in advancing their discoveries to patients.

Langer has close ties with the venture community, particularly Polaris Venture Partners, which has invested $225 million in 19 Langer-related startups through January, according to General Partner Amir Nashat. A proud Langer Lab alum, Nashat has worked with Langer on startups such as Bind Biosciences, Selecta and Living Proof (which marries advanced materials science with consumer hair products). Polaris and other backers have scored returns on investments in biotech companies affiliated with Langer such as Advanced Inhalation Research and Momenta Pharmaceuticals ($MNTA).

"Bob, along with a number of other colleagues from MIT and Harvard, were groundbreakers in creating the flow of ideas from their labs into early biotech companies," Nashat said via email. "If you then look at the sheer number of professors who are alumni of the Langer Lab or were academic collaborators of Bob's, you see many examples of academic entrepreneurs."

Nashat is among an honor roll Langer alums in biotech which includes Ram Sasisekharan, an MIT biological engineer who co-founded Momenta and other drug startups; Hongming Chen, the vice president of research for venture-backed Kala Pharmaceuticals; and John Santini, the CEO of another VC-supported drug developer, RadioRx. This is a small cohort on a very long list.

"[One] thing I feel very proud of is how well our students have done," Langer told FierceBiotech in an interview. "Well over 200 have gotten great faculty positions. Several hundred have gone into the biotech and medical device industry and have done great [or] started companies."

Industry types were flocking to Langer's lab long before pharma tie-ups with academia came into high fashion in recent years as drugmakers sought to plug leaks in their pipelines. Langer has shown how an academic can cross over into the business world and return with his principles intact. He learned the bureaucratic hurdles in big companies a long time ago and has focused much of his entrepreneurial attention on nimble startups.

Langer has been at this for decades, and part of his magic touch involves bringing many whizzes with different areas of expertise--engineers, biologists, chemists and physicians--to his lab. And Langer's been a leading voice in a chorus of top innovators calling for convergence of technologies and expertise to solve the biggest problems in healthcare and other fields.

"I believe that Bob has inspired many other academics to be willing to translate their discoveries from academia to industry," Nashat said.

-- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)

Robert Langer - MIT