Heard in the halls of biotech: I’ll meet you in the Valium room.

Cambridge, MA- April 20, 2018: The Valium Room at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, ME on April 20, 2018. (Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff) section: metro reporter: (viewed from outside the conference room the graphics are reflected the glass wall of another conference room.)
Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
The Valium Room at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge.

When employees at Ironwood Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge talk about grabbing Valium for a meeting, they don’t actually pop the blue sedative immortalized more than 50 years ago in the Rolling Stones classic “Mother’s Little Helper.”

The Valium Room is one of 32 conference rooms at the biotech that are named for a notable drug, from albuterol (for asthma) to Zithromax (for bacterial infections). Ironwood’s chief executive wants employees to learn about the hurdles cleared by scientists who developed blockbuster drugs, including interference by top executives.

“Inevitably, somebody foolish in senior management — it’s usually the CEO — tried to kill the program,” said Peter Hecht, whose firm makes Linzess, a treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.


Developing drugs is a serious business, but many Massachusetts biotechs go for the quirky when they name meeting rooms.

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Surface Oncology, a Cambridge startup developing drugs for the treatment of tumors, has named 15 conference rooms for distinctive features on the surface of planets, moons, and asteroids.

What in the world do Olympus Mons (the tallest known volcano in the solar system and highest point on Mars) and Ceres (the largest object in the asteroid belt) have to do with cancer-fighting drugs?

Andrew Lake, Surface’s director of cell biology — and the employee who suggested the outer space theme — said he’s always felt that planets and other celestial objects resembled cells.

“You have to use a bit of imagination, but you know that a T cell is a T cell by its surface features,” said Lake, who’s been an astronomy buff since his childhood in Colorado.


At Bicycle Therapeutics, a Lexington company seeking to develop cancer-fighting drugs, conference rooms bear the names of castles in the imaginary continent of Westeros from “Game of Thrones,” the wildly popular HBO fantasy epic adapted from George R.R. Martin’s book series. Among the places workers gather is Winterfell — the T is spelled on a glass wall with a medieval sword — and Riverrun.

You might think a world where Essence of Nightshade passes for a breakthrough drug is the last thing a biotech firm would trumpet. But Kevin Lee, chief executive of Bicycle, said several employees are passionate “Game of Thrones” fans, and visitors love to photograph the rooms.

“We wanted to do something that was a bit different,” he said. “There’s too much naming rooms for places and scientists.”

Themes at other local biotechs include birds at Bluebird Bio (from crane to wren) and ancient Greek cities at Agios Pharmaceuticals (including Corinth and Sparta).

Companies have long named rooms after revered executives and employees, according to Sarah Brazaitis, an organizational psychologist and senior lecturer at Columbia University’s Teachers College. But the trend of themed names for conference rooms is relatively recent. It occurred in the past 10 to 20 years with the rise of open-office layouts and “huddle rooms” that are supposed to foster teamwork.


“Companies that name their conference and meeting rooms according to themes are doing so to communicate their values and organizational culture,” Brazaitis said in an e-mail.

And sometimes the room names fit the circumstances of the gatherings.

“I have had some meetings in Valium where we were talking about something kind of stressful,’’ said Carolyn Higgins, a scientific director at Ironwood. “We definitely all acknowledged the fact that it was perfect.”

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at