Eugene Goldberg Lecture Series: Jim Burns, Ph.D.

Date(s) - 02/16/2021
3:00 pm - 4:00 pm


James Burns, Ph.D.

CEO, Board Member

One Bioengineer’s Journey Into DNA and RNA to Address the Critical Needs to Treat Disease

Engineers are problem solvers. I started out with a degree in biology but became a bioengineer because I wanted to solve problems that could make a difference for patients. One of the most important steps I took in becoming a bioengineer was pursuing a postdoc in the Materials Science & Engineering Department at the University of Florida under Professor Gene Goldberg. As an engineering post-doc, I learned that scientific rigor and analytical thinking went hand-in-hand with working collaboratively on teams to get things done; a way of working that has served me well throughout my career as I progressed from the lab bench working on biopolymer-based products to CEO of a genetic engineering company.

My first position following my post-doc was with Genzyme Corporation. Genzyme was a different type of biotechnology company as it had made the strategic decision early on to invest in developing biologics-based therapeutics for rare diseases, and also to focus on biopolymers for medical applications. As the first employee in the biopolymers group, it was my job to build a lab, hire personnel and identify product development strategies for surgical products. We established critical proof-of-concept work that ultimately led to the development of a number of surgical products, most notably Seprafilm adhesion barrier, which is still the only FDA-approved product for abdominal and pelvic surgery. Ultimately, the success in surgical products led to building and leading teams in the field of genetic engineering including most recently in CRISPR-based gene editing and RNA targeted gene therapy.

I will provide a description from a product perspective of a journey that started with the use of biopolymers for surgical product applications to the manipulation and engineering of the ultimate biopolymers – DNA and RNA – to treat human disease.

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