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MIT Technology Review

35 Innovators Under 35

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  • John Harrington

    34

    Growing up in the shadow of Amgen in Thousand Oaks, CA, and then working in the company’s labs during college, John Harrington saw what it takes to succeed in biotech’s upper echelon. He kept that in mind when he founded Cleveland-based Athersys in 1994, then worked 18 hours a day to build it while still a postdoc. During that time Harrington coinvented the first man-made human chromosome; gene therapists are now investigating how to use such artificial chromosomes to penetrate cells and repair disease-causing genes. In his academic work, Harrington discovered fen1,a DNA-cutting enzyme that can accelerate the spread of cancers. Athersys is pursuing drugs that inhibit fen1 because they have the potential to treat cancer, alone or with chemotherapy. Athersys’s 130 employees are also commercializing Harrington’s most recent invention, a process called “random activation of gene expression,” which unveils the functions of proteins and could be an important tool in medical research and therapy. Athersys investors seem happy with Harrington’s creations and his ability to go all out: since 2000 they have chipped in $90 million.