October 2, 2024
Gillette Stadium

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Emerging Leaders Session

10:15 AM – 11:15 AM | West Red Level, Suite 81

Into the Unknown World of the Dark Genome: How to Turn an Idea into a Successful Venture

Embark with me on a journey into the depths of the human genome, where mysteries abound and discoveries await. As a scientist deeply intrigued by the unexplored territories of the genome, I invite you to join me as we delve into the enigmatic realm known as the “dark” genome.

My scientific journey took an unexpected turn due to a personal crisis. Initially, I was set to study the protein folding problem for my Ph.D. However, when my close friend was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I was devastated and felt a desperate need to help. This led me to shift my focus to researching schizophrenia using genomics and proteomics. Despite collecting extensive data and publishing well-cited papers, we were unable to conclusively identify disease signatures.

Determined to find answers, I pursued postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, where I developed mathematical models of proteins and genes in cancer—another deeply personal endeavor, as I lost my father to cancer at the age of 55. It was during this period that I made an accidental groundbreaking discovery – a side project really: the entire genome, not just the regions traditionally classified as genes, is capable of producing proteins. This insight suggested that our incomplete understanding of diseases might stem from overlooking these “dark” regions of the genome.

Armed with this revelation, I returned to the University of Cambridge and established my own lab. There, my team and I systematically curated and catalogued 250,000 previously unknown proteins. We mapped their involvement in various diseases and investigated their potential as drug targets. These staggering observations quickly surpassed the scope of an academic lab. Driven by a determination to make a real-world impact and improve patients’ lives, I decided to take the plunge and start a company.

Thus, NonExomics was born, dedicated to translating our scientific discoveries into therapeutic interventions. The transition from academia to entrepreneurship was steep, filled with many unknowns. Balancing a young family and navigating a research area with the ominous label of the “dark genome” posed numerous challenges, both visible and invisible. We licensed our discoveries from Cambridge and secured the support of a venture capital firm that believed in our vision. Our efforts were further validated when Illumina’s accelerator program invited us to participate, recognizing the promise of our work.

In this talk, I will share insights from our exploration of the dark genome, highlighting its cryptic coding regions and intricate modification mechanisms. We will delve into the implications of these discoveries for medical science and their potential to revolutionize therapies. Through collaborative efforts with pharmaceutical and other partners, NonExomics is at the forefront of developing treatments for diseases such as ALS, cancer, and schizophrenia.


Sudhakaran Prabakaran, CEO, NonExomics, Inc.

Sponsored by:   


Dr. Sudhakaran Prabakaran is a distinguished scientist and entrepreneur, renowned for his  groundbreaking contributions to genomics and proteomics. He earned his Ph.D. from the  University of Cambridge, UK, where his pioneering research significantly advanced our  understanding of the human genome and contributed to significant advancements in  schizophrenia research.

During his postdoctoral tenure at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Prabakaran further expanded  our knowledge of protein modifications. His research identified novel modification  mechanisms and pathways, providing crucial insights into protein regulation and its implications for disease mechanisms and therapies.

As an Assistant Professor at the University of Cambridge, Dr. Prabakaran’s work revealed  that the entire human genome, not just the well-known 2% coding for traditional genes,  produces proteins. This revolutionary discovery opened new avenues for therapeutic  interventions and disease treatment. His lab curated and cataloged over 250,000 novel  proteins and experimentally validated several in cancer studies. Additionally, his research  has contributed to significant advancements in schizophrenia research, further impacting  both academic research and practical applications in biotechnology.

In addition to his academic achievements, Dr. Prabakaran founded NonExomics, a  biotechnology company dedicated to translating his research findings into real-world  medical applications. Under his leadership, NonExomics has garnered significant interest  from major pharmaceutical companies, leading to collaborations aimed at developing  treatments for conditions such as ALS, cancer, and schizophrenia.

Dr. Prabakaran’s innovative work and dedication to improving patient outcomes have  earned him recognition and respect within the scientific community. His journey from a  passionate researcher to a leading scientist and entrepreneur continues to inspire aspiring  entrepreneurs and scientists.