Jon Levenson, CSO – FireCyte Therapeutics
Q: What does FireCyte Therapeutics do?
Jon: We are a brand-new, startup, neuro ophthalmology biotech and we are focused on coming up with novel, therapeutic strategies for degenerative diseases of the retina, like glaucoma. We’re focused on the processes of neuroinflammation and the cells that mediate that phenomenon microglia.
Q: As the CSO, what do you do on a daily basis?
I’m science, science, science. It spans the gamut from managing experiments and projects that we have to working at the bench. We’re an integrated company so we have a lot of external collaborations and partners that also contribute to our scientific discovery and development efforts, so I manage a lot of external players. Then, at a higher level, I always have an eye towards the broader field. I am looking for and integrating what’s going on in the broader neuroimmunology community and determining impacts and opportunities for our programs.
Q: What got you interested in working in this field?
My original interest in science was around how the heart worked. I was fascinated at how that tissue could use electric impulses and various other physiological cues to regulate itself. I was also fascinated by the fact that all of this could happen in the absence of the brain, so you can transplant a heart and it responds to people walking, standing up, running just fine. That interest in how tissues could use electrical signals to govern their own functioning eventually led me to neurobiology. I really enjoy exploring how neurons and all of the support cells wire together to turn us into who we are, and the neuro retina is a nice little mini brain that one can use to find therapeutics a lot faster.
Q: What are your goals going forward?
My goal looking out many years from now is to take what we learn in the retina and hopefully leverage that to create transformative medicines for neurological disorders.
Q: What is your favorite activity outside of work?
Q: Any specific discipline?
I like it all, but I’ve had most of my formal training in Taekwondo, where I hold second degree black belt. I’ve done some various other flavors of the striking arts like Kung Fu and some of the derivatives thereof. Then, when my kids were in elementary school, they took karate after school for a couple months. As it always happens, they wanted to do it and then dad decided to jump back on the mat too. So now I hold a third-degree black belt in karate and I am currently active in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. A lot of people that do that like the grappling-wrestling part of it, I like Jiu Jitsu more for the stand-up and integrating some of the skills that are missing in the striking arts. For example, if a person gets very close to you and you can’t necessarily get a kick off, then you use some of your other tools.
Q: Do you like hot dogs or hamburgers better?
Haha, I love them both. Both of my kids are in the debate club – my oldest is the debate club president and my youngest is the secretary. Routinely we have the debate as to whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich and very often, hamburger is also invoked, hence my excitement for the question. I do love both. I love grilling both. But the philosophical debate that ensues in my house with my family is: Is a hot dog a hot dog or a sandwich?
Q: And what’s your take?
Well, clearly, it’s a sandwich.
Q: But how can it be a sandwich with only one piece of bread?
Well, it’s folded as if to be two pieces of bread. A sandwich that uses one piece of bread that’s folded is still a sandwich, right? If you were to take one piece of bread and put a slice of turkey and some cheese and maybe some lettuce and then just fold it over on itself, it is still a sandwich – even though you might have only used one continuous piece of bread.