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Kenneth Chien

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Kenneth Chien is a biologist and professor primarily known as a leading researcher in cardiovascular science who, in co-founding biotechnology company Moderna Therapeutics, saw a specific application for a new kind of regenerative medicine developed by another of the company’s co-founders.

Born in New Jersey, Chien earned a BA from Harvard College in Massachusetts as well as an MD and PhD from Temple University in Pennsylvania. He continued his studies, specifically in cardiology, at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, became a faculty member at the University of California San Diego, and went on to become director of that school’s Institute of Molecular Medicine. Chien also directed a joint molecular medicine training program, established a molecular medicine program at Peking University, and has served as an advisor to numerous biomedical research foundations as well as several pharmaceutical companies.

Chien’s research has focused primarily on regenerative cardiovascular medicine, specifically coaxing a type of stem cell to develop specifically into one of three types of heart cells to treat heart diseases. Key findings published by Chien’s research teams between 2005 and 2008 showed promise in being able to use stem cells to repair and replace damaged tissues in the heart through a long-term therapy.

While Chien was a visiting professor at Harvard University in 2009, an assistant professor at Harvard named Derrick Rossi presented Chien with research showing how a cell could be instructed to produce proteins, but in a way that was unlike previously discovered methods that often caused mutation in the cell’s DNA. The method pointed to the possibility of a long-term therapy where in which cells internally produce their own medicine.

Chien and Rossi became the research-focused co-founders of Moderna Therapeutics, along with the entrepreneurial co-founders MIT bioengineer Robert Langer and biochemical engineer and venture capitalist Noubar Afeyan. They founded to company in 2010 and by 2013, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca invested $240 million in their research with a $180 million in incentives in exchange for exclusive use of some of their treatments. In addition to his work with Moderna, Chien took up a position as professor and researcher in molecular biology at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, in January, 2013.

Companies and Investments

Moderna Therapeutics (Academic Co-Founder)

Lessons Learned

Team up with experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. One person with a great idea has potential, but a team can take an idea and find applications for it as well as partners and investors to fund research and development.

Be able to see how an idea can fit into your work. If someone else presents an idea that more effectively accomplishes an objective you’re working on, be willing to collaborate with that person.

Inspiring Quotes

Kenneth Chien's Quotes

There is such an incredible need for these regenerative therapeutics as the population ages, that naturally there is pressure to move forward quickly. We should move forward aggressively on the scientific end, but I dont think we should take a ‘cowboy-style approach… I would use a ‘football analogy: everyone wants to take a shot at the goal, but if you take your shot from the opposite end of the field, your chances of scoring are extremely low. So you move the ball down the field, position it properly and when you are in the right position, then you take your shot. Science moves the ball down the field. Thats where I think we are: we are going to take our shots now.

Kenneth Chien

Every physician scientist dreams about their work ultimately being useful to advance human health in some small way. This remains a fundamental driver of all our work, in this case to help patients, both children and adults, afflicted with severe forms of cardiovascular disease.

Kenneth Chien

Influential Books

Mentors

Norman Shumway, Michael Brown, Joseph Goldstein, Leland Hartwell, Eric Kandel

References


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