This year marks the 40th anniver­sary of the founding of Northeastern’s Bar­nett Insti­tute of Chem­ical and Bio­log­ical Analysis, a mile­stone that was hon­ored last week at a day­long con­fer­ence on campus. During its 40-​​year his­tory, the insti­tute has pio­neered break­throughs in biotech­nology, forensic sci­ence, and advanced mate­rials study.

The con­fer­ence wel­comed industry and aca­d­emic leaders from around the world; cur­rent and former stu­dents and fac­ulty of the insti­tute; and Laurie Werner and Eliott Bar­nett, chil­dren of Lou and Madlyn Bar­nett, who endowed the insti­tute in 1983.

Through its four decades of research, the Bar­nett Insti­tute has made sev­eral major sci­en­tific advance­ments in its field, including the devel­op­ment of new ana­lyt­ical tech­niques and instru­men­ta­tion, a major ana­lyt­ical con­tri­bu­tion to the Human Genome Project, and the dis­covery of novel bio­markers for cancer. Recently, Bar­nett researchers have been devel­oping the next gen­er­a­tion of phar­ma­ceu­tical analysis to accom­mo­date the increas­ingly com­plex biosim­ilar drugs now flooding the market.

Among the institute’s pri­mary goals is a focus on indus­trial part­ner­ships. “We’ve believed for a long time that industry and acad­emia have to come closer together, and there’s a lot of com­mon­ality between them,” said Barry Karger, the institute’s founding director.

Christoph Westphal (left), Barnett Institute Director Barry Karger, Noubar Afeyan, Dieter Hoehn, Jonathan Fleming, Peter Barrett, and College of Sciences Dean Murray Gibson. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

(Left to right:) Christoph West­phal, Bar­nett Insti­tute director Barry Karger, Noubar Afeyan, Dieter Hoehn, Jonathan Fleming, Peter Bar­rett, and Col­lege of Sci­ence dean Murray Gibson. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

To honor that tra­di­tion, the insti­tute estab­lished the Dieter and Inge Hoehn lec­ture series in 1999. Hoehn, a long time Bar­nett col­lab­o­rator, was vice pres­i­dent and head of ana­lyt­ical prod­ucts at Hewlett Packard for many years.

As part of the anniver­sary cel­e­bra­tion, the annual Hoehn lec­ture wel­comed four life sci­ence ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists to dis­cuss the role of academic-​​driven inno­va­tion in the suc­cess of biotech­nology star­tups. The experts com­prised Bar­nett alumnus and Celera co-​​founder Peter Bar­rett; Long­wood Fund founder and partner Christoph West­phal; Oxford Bio­sciences man­aging partner Jonathan Fleming; and Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flag­ship Ventures.

More and more, we’re working closely with uni­ver­si­ties to trans­late sci­ence,” said Bar­rett, a partner at Atlas Ven­tures, a Boston-​​based life sci­ences and tech ven­ture cap­ital firm. “If you look at the ecosystem we live in, the pharma and biotech com­pa­nies need a pipeline; the aca­d­emic insti­tu­tions can only take things so far. We sit in the middle of that par­a­digm, being the trans­la­tors of taking things out of aca­d­emic insti­tu­tions and building com­pa­nies around them.”

Bar­rett, West­phal, and Afeyan dis­cussed their sup­port of startup com­pa­nies, which take the “big idea,” as West­phal put it, out of the aca­d­emic lab and turn it into a product or tech­nology with soci­etal impact. Fleming noted the crit­ical tri­umvi­rate that makes that process pos­sible in this country: acad­emia, industry, and government.

Almost every­thing that you’ve heard so far,” said Fleming, refer­ring to the speeches given by his col­leagues, “are ideas and tech­niques and methods and tech­nolo­gies that orig­i­nated in a uni­ver­sity and were paid for by fed­eral funding.”

Going from a big idea to a com­mer­cial drug requires the exper­tise of more than six dozen people with dif­ferent skill sets, according to Fleming. “A number of those key skill sets,” he said, “are ones that come out of the Bar­nett Institute.”

In closing, Fleming praised the insti­tute. “Bar­nett has indeed become a leader in its field,” he said, noting Karger’s unpar­al­leled con­tri­bu­tion to its success.

After the sym­po­sium, the guests gath­ered in the Fenway Center for a gala cel­e­bra­tion in honor of the institute’s anniver­sary and Karger’s 50 years of ser­vice to North­eastern. As part of the cel­e­bra­tion, alumni and friends, including the Bar­nett Family, announced a new effort to estab­lish the Karger Prize in Bio­an­a­lyt­ical Chemistry.