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Biotechs compete against each other for a common cause

Jerome Clark of Aldevron reacted to his shot while playing ladder golf during the FRAXA Biotech Games at MIT.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Local biotechnology companies aren’t always focused on beating diseases. Sometimes they square off against each other for a good cause.

Teams representing 42 Boston-area biotechs went head to head in lawn games such as cornhole and ladder golf at the first annual FRAXA Biotech Games on Thursday.

The event raised more than $30,000 for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Bear Lab, according to organizer Dave Bjork of the FRAXA Research Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to cure Fragile X syndrome.

Teams of four filled the lawn at MIT’s Kresge Oval to compete for bragging rights and a gold cup. Friendly games of KanJam, where players throw a disc and hope their teammates can knock it into a barrel, coincided with BucketBall, the lawn game equivalent to beer pong.


“We’re uniting the Cambridge community and putting the money right into research in Cambridge,” Bjork said.

Fragile X, a genetic condition that causes developmental problems and cognitive impairment, is the most common inherited cause of autism and learning disabilities. About one in 4,000 men and one in 6,000 women are affected by the disorder, according to FRAXA. People with Fragile X experience developmental delays, social and behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

When Mark Bear started researching the disease in 1999 through a FRAXA fellowship, researchers didn’t believe medicines could be used to treat genetic disorders. But much has changed since then.

“We have a very real chance at a success in this disease, and it’s going to have a much broader impact,” said the MIT Picower Institute for Learning and Memory professor. “The impact in autism will be immediate, but even in the general area of psychiatric drug development,” there will be an effect.

“If we can get together the researchers, the families, the pharma companies, the vendors, and get them talking to each other, who knows what’ll happen. We’re already planning next year,” said FRAXA president Katie Clapp, who cofounded the organization in 1994 after her son was diagnosed with Fragile X.


Ryan Chappell, a lab manager at Cambridge-based biotech Platelet BioGenesis, which also competed in the games, said he likes seeing the local biotechs come together to spread the word about a rare condition.

“Funding ends up [being] proportional to awareness. I don’t think many people know what Fragile X is or who it affects,” he said. “Hopefully, more will after today.”

Allison Hagan can be reached at