The Seattle area's brain science leadership, specifically the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Seattle biotech company that has become a focal point of the battle against neurodegenerative disease, is on display this week in Jackson Hole, WY, where the annual Wyoming Global Technology Summit is taking place.
Leen Kawas, CEO of Seattle-based M3 Biotechnology, and Amy Bernard, product architect for the Allen Institute, will be members of a panel moderated by former Seattleite Amber Caska, CEO of NEXT Family Office, that will explore "The New Frontier: Innovations in Neuroscience." Rachael Dunlop, Senior Research Fellow at the Brain Chemistry Labs in Jackson, WY, is the third panelist.
It's an opportune time for Kawas to be appearing before an audience that includes potential investors since her company and its novel regenerative therapies for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurodegenerative diseases has completed Phase 1a and 1b with its lead compound.
M3, which has been described as being at the leading edge in the new field of regenerative medicine, is now actively recruiting Alzheimer's patients in Phase 1c and plans to begin Phase 2 trials next year.
The clinical trials that have been completed with M3's lead compound NDX-1017 have been designed to assess safety, toxicity and tolerability while evaluating a biomarker strategy for the therapy for Alzheimer's that are intended to slow or even stop the progression of the disease.
Caska pointed out to me that "The Allen Institute of Brain Science independently highlighted a lead target through separate gene studies that M3 Biotechnology was pursuing research on, showing the important role of these independent research institutes."
In a column a year ago, as M3 began human trials, I wrote that "The manner in which Kawas, in just under four years as president and CEO of M3 Biotechnology Inc., took the young company from the lab toward commercialization and has ascended to virtually the top of the visibility pyramid in her industry is storybook material."
In fact, as I said in that Harp, Kawas, as a 33-year-old woman from Jordan, has become the new face of biotech in Washington State, and beyond, since she is in demand to be on hand for seminars, conferences and investor gatherings relating to life sciences, biotech or Alzheimer's across the country.
As Carol Criner, who has served as CEO and turnaround executive at various companies in an array of industries and is an M3 investor and advisor, told me for that year-ago column, "Now that she is a celebrity CEO, it's hard to imagine this all began a few short years ago."
"I witnessed her face the headwinds of giant egos and sexism with resilience," Criner noted. "She never gave up. Her success largely silenced a lot of vocal-doubters. I love it. She's amazing and strong."
The panel on which Kawas is featured was Caska's idea. As a transplant to Jackson Hole, she approached the organizers of the event that was created five years ago by the non-profit Jackson Hole Technology Partnership about putting together an all-female panel and they seized on the idea.
Caska is an angel investor with an impressive background, having come to Jackson Hole from the Bay Area where she had managed the family office fund for former Google CEO Eric Schmidt and his wife, Wendy, before taking the role as president and COO of the women angel organization Portfolia. Prior to that she ran Microsoft founder and pro sports owner Paul Allen's family office fund and helped guide a number of his investments, including the NBA Portland Trailblazers.
In addition to Caska's panel, the 2018 summit will feature an array of leaders of various industries and innovators on the topics of Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Fintech, Venture Capital, Quantum Computing and Digital Healthcare Technology.
Caska isn't the only female executive with impressive credentials to have been recent newcomers to Jackson Hole.
Debbie Hopkins, who was CEO of Citi Ventures and led Citigroup Innovation, moved to Jackson Hole this year, and she also is moderating a panel, titled "High Altitude Entrepreneurship, from Founders to Funders."
"Debby and I have been brainstorming on how we could convene more diversity in leadership to discuss innovation and investment in Wyoming," Caska said.
The event itself, being held in one of the wealthiest per-capita cities in America, is a model for what could be done in other less populated states.
The Jackson Hole Technology Partnership founded the event to identify new technologies relevant to rural populations and accelerate access to those technologies on a global scale. In addition to the summit, the organization holds follow up workshops.
The JHTP touts its focus as solving rural challenges by accelerating technologies that improve biotech and healthcare delivery, energy, information security, mobile banking, agriculture, transportation, communication, and clean water and clean air.
As Caska noted to me for this column: "Wyoming wants to attract more science, innovation, tech, and jobs here. The Governor hosts this annual summit to convene global speakers to share innovation projects they are working on and see if there is a way to tie into partnership opportunities for the State of Wyoming."
"I think there is a great opportunity for rural areas to collaborate with innovation and education centers from around the globe," Caska said. "Many experienced professionals are moving to rural states looking for a different quality of life to that of the overcrowded cities. There is a ton of talent to be tapped and so building innovation centers in places such as Jackson Hole totally makes sense."