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A Year in Review: 2020

The Wyss Institute celebrates its successes during a tumultuous year and looks ahead to the future

By Lindsay Brownell

To paraphrase a joke that has been circulating on social media lately, nobody who was asked “Where do you see yourself in five years?” in 2015 got the answer right. 2020 has upended our schedules, workplaces, social connections, hobbies, and priorities, and made us painfully aware of how collectively vulnerable humans are, both as a species and as a society.

Despite this worldwide disruption the Wyss Institute has soldiered on, finding creative ways to safely resume lab work, repurposing existing projects to focus on finding treatments for the COVID-19, and shifting business development and commercialization work to virtual meetings and conferences. Here are some of our achievements this year, by the numbers.

Science and Commercialization

A Year in Review: 2020

207 papers published

A Year in Review: 2020
After nearly a decade of work, last winter Wyss Institute researchers finally created aHuman Body-on-Chips platform that lays the foundation for better and accelerated drug testing. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

Wyss researchers continued to make groundbreaking discoveries and innovation in a number of scientific disciplines, including a fluidically linked human body-on-chips, a new treatment for psoriasis, a soft robotic exosuit that improves walking for stroke survivors, machine learning algorithms that can identify and predict high-quality biological sensors, a biomaterial vaccine for tough-to-treat tumors, and a tiny surgical robot for delicate procedures.

48 patents issued to Wyss members

True to our mission of getting breakthrough technology out of the lab and into the real world, our teams have applied for and been granted patents for a number of new inventions, serving as the basis for future licensing agreements.

19 licensing agreements signed

The Wyss Institute and Harvard’s Office of Technology Development signed 19 licensing agreements this year with companies who are committed to bringing our technologies to people who need them, and protecting the environment. One such company, Amend Surgical, is applying our tough hydrogel adhesive to close wounds after oral surgery.

11 startups founded

Despite the unprecedented challenges of 2020, a stellar group of intrepid entrepreneurs made the switch from the bench to the boardroom by spinning out a record 11 startup companies to commercialize Wyss technologies. These new startups are disrupting industries from air conditioning to gene therapy, and include Rejuvenate Bio, Metalmark Innovations, Torus Biosystems, and Manifold Biotechnologies.

COVID-19 Response

In this video, watch how Wyss Institute members refocused their efforts and self-assembled into new project teams to fight COVID-19 on multiple fronts. Credit: Wyss Institute at Harvard University

6 licenses signed for COVID-19 related technologies

The Wyss Institute joined the global and local scientific community in shifting priorities to focus on COVID-19. In the last nine months, we have licensed multiple technologies to existing companies and new start-ups who are commercializing them to fight the pandemic, including Agile Biodetection (toehold switches and nasal swabs), The IQ Group Global (eRapid), and multiple plastics manufacturing companies (swabs and face shields).

7 million+ face shields manufactured

Former Wyss Staff Scientist James Weaver, Ph.D. worked with doctors and manufacturing companies to create a new face shield design that can be produced at high volume much faster and more cheaply than existing models, helping to address the national PPE shortage. Wyss members also personally fabricated and hand-delivered hundreds of lab-made face shields to local hospitals.

554 drugs tested in repurposing pipeline for COVID-19

To help identify existing drugs that could be repurposed to treat COVID-19, a team led by Wyss Founding Director Don Ingber, M.D., Ph.D. has created a multi-center research pipeline that combines computational algorithms, human Organ Chip microfluidic cultures, and animal models of the disease to screen and test compounds. This pipeline predicts which drugs will be most effective in humans, helping to prioritize the best performers for clinical evaluation.

1 FDA-authorized COVID-19 diagnostic test

Wyss start-up Sherlock Biosciences has received FDA Emergency Use Authorization for their CRISPR-based rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19, which is now being manufactured and sold to testing centers around the world. This milestone is also the first-ever FDA-authorized use of CRISPR technology for human health.


A Year in Review: 2020

 ~210 Wyss members working on-site

After a two-week shutdown in March, Wyss researchers returned to the lab to start working on COVID-19 research. Today our labs are back up to nearly-full capacity, divided into two daily shifts and with strict social distancing, PPE, and regular testing requirements in place. Our remaining members are working remotely.

34 virtual events hosted

Even though we couldn’t gather in person, the Wyss Events Team pulled out all the stops to create fun ways for us to connect virtually. We made Neapolitan pizza, painted our own masterpieces, learned to quilt, enjoyed live Classical and world music concerts, tasted ciders, watched and discussed movies, and held book club meetings together, despite being physically apart.

39 recipes submitted to our Wyss Quarantine Quookbook

Members of our community collaborated to create our own Wyss Quarantine “Quookbook,” helping us stay connected and learn about each other’s diverse cultures via food. Some of our favorites are pão de queijo from Brazil, jerk chicken from Jamaica, shakshuka from Israel, and strawberry tart from Switzerland.

27 awards won

Many of our community members were recognized for their innovation and leadership in both science and business. Ten of our faculty were named Highly Cited Researchers of the last decade, and three made the Top 20 Translational Researchers of 2019 list. Other awardees include former Wyss member Daniel Bojar, Ph.D., who won a highly competitive Branco Weiss Fellowship to support his new lab in Gothenburg, Sweden, and both Amanda Chen and Vanessa Sanchez were named on Forbes’ 2021 30 Under 30 in Science list.

9 Humans of the Wyss stories

We think our co-workers are amazing, and we want the rest of the world to know it! Every year we interview members of our community about their work, their backgrounds, their hobbies, and what motivates them to get out of bed in the morning. This year we featured nine innovators working on different projects across the Institute in our Humans of the Wyss series.

Looking ahead to 2021

A Year in Review: 2020

A full year of accomplishments is ending, and a new one full of possibilities is starting. We asked our community members what they are most looking forward to in 2021, and here are some of their answers.

“I’m looking forward to returning to in-person interactions and to applying the incredible lessons we learned and collaborations we established during the pandemic to solving other pressing problems.” – David Walt, Ph.D.

“I’m looking forward to the 2021 Wyss Retreat!” – Jennifer Lewis, Ph.D.

“Looking forward to a happy (as stress free as possible) year. Also hopefully good health for everyone around me.” – Margaret Ivins

“Coming back to the Wyss and socializing with everyone, obviously only if it’s safe.” – Shruti Kaushal

“Organizing wonderful events for the Wyss Community, working on my capstone project for my Master’s degree, traveling with my family when it’s safe to do so, volunteering at my daughter’s school…so many things!” – Ana Carolina Villar de Jimenez

“The end of 2020, and hopefully hugs! Also, returning to our ergonomic desk chairs.” Mariel Schoen

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