a Pioneer

Remembering a Pioneer

Susan Lindquist (1949-2016)

Dr. Susan Lindquist, Founder of Yumanity Therapeutics, was an inspiration to the scientific community – a legendary scientist and one of the world’s most respected researchers with a reputation for biomedical innovation. She constantly pushed boundaries and pioneered the use of yeast as a model organism to probe the fundamental biology of cancer and neurodegeneration, providing transformative insights into the biology of complex human diseases.

Her discoveries led to new understandings of evolutionary processes, including the emergence of cancer and microbial drug resistance. She defined mechanisms of prion and amyloid formation and propagation, and demonstrated that prions have the capacity to drive change in an organism’s inherited characteristics without changing its DNA or RNA.

Sue was brilliant, dedicated, thorough and deliberate - both as a scientist and a human being.

Sue and CEO Dr. Tony Coles came together to found Yumanity Therapeutics in December 2014, in service of a mission to help patients suffering from devastating neurodegenerative diseases. Sue’s laboratory developed our technology platform as a means to discover new disease-modifying therapeutics to combat neurodegenerative conditions caused by protein misfolding. She previously co-founded FoldRx (acquired by Pfizer), a company that developed tafamidis, a first-in-class therapy now approved to combat hereditary peripheral amyloidosis, another important protein misfolding disease of the nervous system.

These achievements only tell part of the story.

Sue was a member and former director of the Whitehead Institute, an investigator in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor of biology at MIT. In 2009, she was awarded the National Medal of Science, our nation’s highest honor for scientific research. She also served on the Corporate Board of Directors and Chair of the Corporate Science and Technology Committee at Johnson & Johnson. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine and the Royal Society, her honors also include the Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2016), the E.B. Wilson Award, the Dickson Prize in Medicine, the Otto-Warburg Prize, the Genetics Society of America Medal, the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, the Max Delbrück and the Mendel Medals.

Never one to shy away from her own convictions, Susan tenaciously pursued her efforts in yeast against a backdrop of continued skepticism for her approach. Her colleagues remember her in a piece featured in Cell Systems.

Two hugs from Susan

Susan was such a warm person. She opened herself up to us as if she had known us for long time. Her trade mark “bear hug” was always there for the Lindquist lab folks for their happiest and saddest moments. I was fortunate enough to experience many of those myself. And among those, two stay with me.

The very first hug:
I had just started to work in Susan’s lab. I was preparing for my first personal meeting with Susan to discuss my future project. Unfortunately, the day before the meeting, I had a miscarriage. I was upset but decided to proceed with the meeting. During the meeting, I was naturally distracted and decided to tell Susan what happened. The next thing I remember was being in her arms. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry”. I barely knew her but I was crying over her shoulder as if she was my mom.

The very last hug:
Susan had been bravely fighting cancer for just under a year. The day before we met, she bravely decided that it was time for her to go. Vik and I knew it would be the last time for us to see her. Tears were streaming down my face as she looked so frail in her hospital bed, not having had eaten solid food for more than two months. She wanted us to get close to her bedside, then she gave me a hug that was so strong and so tight that it took me by surprise. Next thing I knew, I was crying in her arms knowing that, through that last hug, she was so generously and selflessly giving her remaining strength to me, conveying how deeply she cared.

When I miss her dearly, I think of these two hugs. Then I feel her warmth again…

Memorial Funds

To honor Sue’s life and legacy, Johnson & Johnson has established the Susan Lindquist Chair for Women in Science, a scholarship awarded to a female scientist to advance biomedical research. The Whitehead Institute has also founded The Whitehead Institute Fund to Encourage Women in Science to honor her memory.

The community lost a great mind, but Sue’s influential legacy as a scientific leader and innovator will continue as we accelerate the fight against devastating diseases, here at Yumanity Therapeutics and throughout the world.