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Marcie Glicksman: The Art of Influencing Discovery

She wants it all: a speedy diagnosis and treatment for rare, genetically inherited diseases, connection and collaboration for researchers to make this happen and time to pursue absorbing work in industry and academics. A carefully calculated balancing act throughout her career is making it all possible, at the same time. 

Whether she represents SLAS2017 as co-chair, ORIG3N as chief scientific officer (CSO) or one of many medical research foundations for which she serves as a review board member, Marcie Glicksman, Ph.D., effectively wields her 25 years of drug discovery experience and influence. She is passionate that no one misses the next big thing in life sciences research and gives hours each day to unfold innovation and clear paths for continued progress.

She embraces these priorities in her role at ORIG3N, a leader in regenerative medicine technology headquartered in Boston, MA, where Glicksman’s goal is to take the guesswork out of diagnosis and treatment by creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) for research. “When patients go to the doctor right now with a symptom, doctors prescribe drugs that may or may not work,” Glicksman says. “If the patient returns to the doctor, they are given another drug. It’s trial and error.”

She works with ORIG3N’s LIFECAPSULE, the world’s largest uniformly consented blood cell biorepository, through which the company has created a snapshot of humanity by storing crowdsourced blood samples from diverse populations. The company has grown this biorepository by collecting blood samples directly from people attending large public events, such as the Boston Marathon, sports events such as San Francisco 49ers football games, entertainment venues, and Comicon conventions, among other places.

“Once we collect the blood samples, we bring them back to the lab where these cells are reprogrammed to create iPSCs. Then we study the differences between people and establish disease models,” Glicksman explains. “For many years in drug discovery we used cell line models or cells from animals as models for disease. The iPSCs derived from human cells are a fantastic resource that holds enormous potential for life sciences discovery professionals.”

Research using these iPSCs also may extend into therapeutics. Glicksman offers as an example a patient with a heart arrhythmia. “We know that if we take some cells from that patient, make iPSCs and differentiate them to heart cells, that patient’s heart arrhythmia will be seen in the cells in the dish,” she explains. “The possibilities to determine the best drug for that patient’s heart arrhythmia are invaluable – and no one has to give up a piece of their heart.”

ORIG3N offers ready-to-use cardiomyocytes, which are 90 percent Troponin-T positive and reproducible, derived from human iPSCs for research that offers perspective on drug dosage, sensitivity and toxicity. The company, founded in 2014, also offers a personalized snapshot for consumers through its individualized LIFEPROFILE genetic analysis.

“As we collect blood samples, people ask us what we could tell them about themselves,” Glicksman comments. “By having a LIFEPROFILE analysis, participants can learn if they tend to have more strength versus endurance or if they are more prone to injury.” The sample might also reveal aspects of the participant’s metabolism.

“These are non-medically actionable traits that make it possible for individuals to gain insight into their genetic makeup,” says Glicksman. “It shows how your genes impact specific areas so you can make choices to improve your lifestyle.”

Examining Opportunity

Glicksman’s own genetic makeup might have influenced her love of science, but it was her own interests and ambition that pulled her into biology and neurology. “My father is a physicist, but he didn’t really push science on us at all during our upbringing,” she says. “Some scientists will bring their kids to the lab and he didn’t do that.” Instead, a volunteer position, which she held during her undergraduate years studying human biology at Brown University, Providence, RI, gave her some perspective.

“I realized when I worked at Bradley Psychiatric Children’s Hospital that we just don’t understand enough about the brain to really help these kids,” Glicksman says. “That’s when I became more interested in brain research and what I could contribute to gain a better understanding of how the brain works.”

She attributes her academic and early career success to having a good eye for opportunities and a great eye for mentors. “Before I started graduate school, I worked in a lab at the Brain Research Institute at the University of Zurich with Jean Buttner-Ennever, Ph.D., a woman who was both a respected scientist and a mother,” says Glicksman. “Having a family and a successful career were important in my life as well. Her success confirmed for me that I could have both.”

As she continued graduate studies at Washington University, St. Louis, MO, earning a Ph.D. in neuroscience, Glicksman continued to seek and find mentors. “At my first job, I had a very supportive supervisor, Nikki Neff, Ph.D., and a fantastic project. This combination resulted in CEP-1347, a drug that made it to Phase III clinical trials,” she says. “This gave me a great foundation in drug discovery.” These opportunities launched her into industry positions that gradually grew in scope and responsibility.

“One job gave me opportunities to learn new things and then I would move into the next job that would build on those experiences,” Glicksman says. “Even when I was with a start-up that closed down, a colleague of mine connected me to a person who needed a consultant, so I transitioned to that role for a time. There are always reorganizations in drug companies, and I was lucky. When I could see a shift coming, I would explore new opportunities to stay a step ahead.”

This particular time in her career also contributed to her 10 years in academics as she joined Harvard Medical School as an assistant professor in neurology and eventually became co-director of the Lab for Drug Discovery in Neurodegeneration (LDDN) at Brigham Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School's second largest teaching affiliate. During this time Glicksman also joined colleagues from other institutions to found the Academic Drug Discovery Consortium (ADDC), an interactive network of academic drug discovery scientists and centers.

Working Outside of Work

With so many commitments as well as her work in an early-stage company such as ORIG3N, there is not a lot of downtime in her schedule. When Glicksman does get time to relax, she heads to the gym or sometimes runs for the sake of clearing her head. Glicksman and her husband enjoy evenings at the theater with friends and plan family trips to catch up with their three grown children, who are currently pursuing their own career paths. One daughter, who will start a master’s program in clinical research this fall, found her way into science and shares Glicksman’s passion for neurology.

Her desire to influence neurological science research directs much of Glicksman’s hours outside the lab. She serves on the scientific review boards for the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, the Fast Forward National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, providing strategy and guidance to lead these organizations to priority research. In 2013, the Fox Foundation funded her own grant for research into the G2019S mutation in the LRRK2 gene to determine the feasibility of whether lymphocytes could be used as a resource for monitoring normal and Parkinson's Disease (PD)-relevant abnormal LRRK2 kinase activity to eventually develop a non-invasive biomarker for diagnosis, monitoring for disease progression and treatment response of PD.

“Foundations that support a specific disease are important because they often connect patient and family outreach and education with funding for worthwhile therapeutic projects that could benefit patients with that disease,” she says, adding that she also has been involved in organizing a course that educates scientists on the drug discovery process through some of these foundations. 

Focusing on Education

When she speaks of the potential to educate and expand learning about iPSCs and regenerative medicine, Glicksman can’t help but also discuss SLAS2017, to be held Feb. 4-8, 2017 in Washington, DC, which she is co-chairing with Dana Vanderwall, Ph.D., associate director of cheminformatics at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).

“One of the best aspects of the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition is the opportunity to listen to top presenters and learn more about other areas of science, what’s going on now and where it will go in the future. The conference helps us get together.”  

SLAS, and before that the Society of Biomolecular Sciences (SBS), for which she served as chairman and as a board member, has always been a source of connections for Glicksman. After SBS merged with the Association for Laboratory Automation (ALA), she happily joined the newly formed SLAS in 2010, and continues to build on her network. “I have met so many new people. It’s great to have such a cross section of colleagues as I have found in SLAS. The Society helps me meet with new and existing collaborators and it is also a great place for more focused programming.”

Along with her conference co-chair duties, Glicksman will host an SLAS2017 special session with G. Sitta Sittampalam, Ph.D., senior advisor to the director, Immediate Office of the Director in the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health.

The special session, “Regenerative Medicine: Next Generation Treatments,” highlights the recent advances in the generation, standardization, characterization and the mechanistic behavior of stem cells and their applications in regenerative medicine. In addition to their work on the special session, Glicksman and Sittampalam also chair the SLAS Stem Cells and 3D Microtissues Special Interest Group, which also will be meeting at SLAS2017. The group promotes the exchange and discussion of information on new enabling technologies related to the use of stem cells and primary cells in drug discovery.

“The advantage of these focused topical sessions and groups is to get people who have been in the field for a number of years together to create a smaller forum. It creates a focused opportunity,” says Glicksman, a Journal of Biomolecular Screening (JBS) author who also served as guest editor for a special issue on stem cell research.

The guest editor role helped underscore how strongly Glicksman feels about the role of stem cells in the future of medicine. “By being a guest editor on this focused topic, it helped make others aware of how important an area this is,” she adds. “Creating these focused scenarios helps advance science and collaboration.”

Her dual role as co-chair for the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition and the special session has not been a daunting task. “SLAS is a well oiled machine,” Glicksman comments. “The professional management team is efficient, and as co-chairs this means that we are free to focus on what we want the scientific program content to be. We want to make certain that this is one of the best conference programs.”

Planning SLAS2017 is a group effort, according to Glicksman. “We brainstorm for great presenters and sessions. We review feedback from past attendees and tweak the program in response,” she explains, adding that this includes not only the special session she is hosting, but also another entitled, Whose Responsibility is Research Reproducibility?” to be hosted by Lenny Teytelman, co-founder of Protocols, Berkeley, CA. This session will focus on the challenging issues that surround how to increase the reproducibility of published research.

Other new attractions at SLAS2017 that have been added in response to participant feedback include one new, full-day Short Course and four new, half-day courses that shine an in-depth light on the latest in scientific technology, from pharmacology in drug discovery and development and data analytic concepts for high-throughput screening (HTS) and biomarker applications, to introductions to mass spectrometry, flow cytometry and advanced flow cytometry.

In addition, the event will introduce a new SLAS Special Interest Group, Ultra-High-Throughput Screening (uHTS), as well as an evening event, sponsored by Hamilton Co., to be held Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, at DC's famous Newseum, in response to past event attendee requests for continued and expanded opportunities to network.

Glicksman says that the 2017 event is poised for success: “We received the highest number of abstracts ever submitted to the SLAS International Conference and Exhibition. With SLAS2017 we return to DC, which gives us many opportunities to engage U.S. government and NIH participation in the program.” For example, SLAS2017 welcomes a keynote presentation by Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz, section chief of the Cell Biology and Metabolism Branch for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). Lippincott-Schwartz will discuss her research using live cell imaging approaches to analyze the spatio-temporal behavior and dynamic interactions of molecules and organelles in cells.

Glicksman also looks forward to the keynote presentation from writer and author Rachel Swaby, who will discuss her book Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World. “It’s gratifying to have speakers of this caliber join us,” she says.

October 3, 2016