Health IT

From ‘Futures in Biotech’ medical podcasts to a future stroke drug

Through his work on the podcast “Futures in Biotech,” scientist Marc Pelletier has access to some of the field’s top minds. He’s using that access to shape his own thinking as early stage startup, Aeromics, looks to develop a drug to reduce swelling in the brain.

Marc Pelletier is in his element.

That is, he’s talking what he calls “hardcore science” with his peers — in this case two McGill University PhD cell biologists — on the 75th episode of his “Futures in Biotech” videocast and podcast.

The show’s topic, “mass spectrometry in high-throughput proteomics,” is not for the layman. But that’s exactly what Pelletier’s audience of scientists, grad students and PhDs have come to expect from the videocast, which is broadcast live on Twit.tv and available for download on iTunes.

Pelletier is himself a cell biologist and McGill PhD. He’s also the chief scientific officer of Cleveland-based early stage drug developer Aeromics. And so he does his best to draw out explanations for his guests and simplify topics.

But some topics simply can’t be dumbed down that much, and the conversation is peppered with phrases like “state of glycosylation,” “trisomy of chromosome 21,” and “splice isoforms” — enough to make the layman’s eyes glaze over several times over.

Nonetheless, it’s unlikely such weighty topics deter Pelletier’s audience of what he calls “hardcore geeks,” and this episode certainly seems to fulfill Pelletier’s goal of bringing together some of the best minds in science for in-depth and unedited discussions.

“Early on we set the precedent that if I was going to interview people, it’d have to be someone I was interested in or could learn from,” he said. “The question is: If you were doing a podcast and Einstein was around, could you get Einstein?”

Pelletier’s tone in posing the question suggests he thinks he could.

“His enthusiasm for the subject shines through and that’s absolutely critical,” Leo Laporte, Twit.tv’s founder, said of Pelletier. “All podcasting has to start with passion.”

Pelletier, of course, is far more than a podcaster. His scientific credentials and contacts — plus his aggressiveness in hitting up Laporte about starting a biotech podcast — were what caught Laporte’s attention and convinced him that Pelletier was the right person for the job.

The seeds for Aeromics, which focuses on brain swelling in stroke and traumatic brain injury victims, were planted at Yale University. Pelletier spent about five years at Yale, and met the man who’d convince him to move to Cleveland: Walter Boron, who left Yale to take a job as chairman of the department of physiology and biophysics at Case Western Reserve University. Boron is also working with Aeromics.

After starting Aeromics at Yale, Pelletier followed Boron to Cleveland in 2008 and has focused his efforts on building the company. He lured another Yale scientist, George Farr, to join him and round out the Aeromics team.

As a Northeast Ohio native, Farr didn’t need much convincing to return to the region. But his belief in Pelletier and his work clearly made the decision easier.

“Marc’s got the kind of youthful enthusiasm and intense energy necessary to push ideas forward, and he’s willing to take risks and chances,” Farr said. “But he also has the conservative foundation that basically says ‘Show me the data.'”

In 2009, Aeromics received a $2.25 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further develop its drug. Here’s the idea behind it: As water enters the brain through the blood-brain barrier of a stroke victim, it can cause swelling and neurological damage. Aeromics’ drug would prevent water from crossing the barrier and entering the brain, while still allowing gases to get through.

The company hasn’t yet started testing its compound on animals, so it’ll no doubt be a long and winding road to getting a drug to market — one that could take another 10 years to travel. A successful drug could make Aeromics worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and make Pelletier one happy and wealthy man. But until then, he’ll toil away in his lab in Cleveland, taking an hour or two twice a month to record “Futures in Biotech.”

And his work as a videocasting new media scientist — and the access it gives him to some of science’s best minds — will no doubt shape the future direction of Aeromics.

“What I hope to get from doing the interviews is a feeling for what makes the great scientists’ minds tick, and how to ask the right questions to help your science benefit mankind,” he said.

Not bad for a second job.