By Matthew Herper, Ellie Kincaid, and Sarah Hedgecock
The drug business has long been allergic to youth. But take a look at this year’s 30 Under 30 in healthcare, and you’ll see that’s starting to change.
Take Leah Sibener and Marvin Gee, both 26, who were working in the laboratory of Stanford biologist Chris Garcia when they developed the foundation for what could be a new weapon against cancer: new ways to teach a type of white blood cell, called a T-cell, to attack cancer.
The first such therapies, called CAR-T cells, were approved by the FDA in recent months. But current versions can only fight blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and then only by recognizing a single protein on the surface of a single type of cell. What Sibener and Gee developed was a method to use machine learning to identify other proteins, to teach white blood cells to fight other types of cancer. They found support in Luke Lee, 28, a venture capitalist at Asset Management Ventures. Together they formed a company, 3T Biosciences, that raised $12 million, reportedly from investors including Peter Thiel’s Thiel Capital, Facebook billionaire Sean Parker, Charles River Ventures and AMV. “For us, success is helping people,” Sibener says.
This tumor-killing triad’s not alone. This year, seven of the entries in the healthcare Under 30 list — that’s 23% — are involved in founding therapeutics companies, the largest number in the seven years we’ve been doing a list focused on health or science and double last year’s number. That includes Andrew Warren, whose Glympse Bio is working on creating nanoparticle sensors that might be used to diagnose cancer or liver fibrosis, Travis Whitfill’s Azitra which has raised $4 million to try to leverage benign bacteria living on the skin to treat disease, and Moufeed Kaddoura and Eric Blondeel‘s Y Combinator-backed ExVivo Labs, which aims to replace allergy prick-testing with a less painful patch.
The Forbes 30 Under 30 in Healthcare was selected by Forbes editors in collaboration with an expert panel. This year, the panel was comprised of Cigall Kadoch Assistant Professor of Pediatric Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and an Under 30 alum, Peter Bach, Director of Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Center for Health Policy and Outcomes, and Steven Salzberg,the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Computer Science, and Biostatistics at Johns Hopkins University.
There’s no denying that the list has always had a pharma presence. Flatiron health co-founder and CEO Nat Turner veiwed pharma companies as clients. Martin Shkreli, who became infamous for a drug price hike, was featured on our Finance list in 2012. Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2014 lister, founded a whole network of biotech companies and took Axovant, focused on Alzheimer’s drugs, public in a $360 million 2015 IPO only to see the company’s lead drug fail earlier this year. But this represents a better bumper crop of baby Pharmas than we’ve ever had.
A related efflorescence: the number of Under 30s working with the gene-editing technology CRISPR, a set of proteins discovered in bacteria (originally, bacteria involved in making yogurt!) that can be used to cut and edit DNA in living things with previously impossible exactness. Kunwoo Lee co-authored a paper showing that CRISPR could be used to treat muscular dystrophy in mice. His startup, GenEdit, has raised $1.5 million to deliver CRISPR into the body using nanoparticles. Andreas Puschnik, the first fellow of the Chan Zuckerberg BioHub, is using CRISPR to develop new experimental drugs for Zika and dengue fever. Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg, students in the laboratory of Broad Institute wunderkind Feng Zhang, developed a new CRISPR enzyme for use in gene editing and another that could be used for DNA’s sister chemical RNA, which the body uses as a chemical messenger.
Not that the digital revolution in healthcare is slowing at all. Siddarth Satish’s Gauss Surgical has raised $24.6 million for a product that uses the iPad’s built-in camera and computer vision algorithms to measure blood loss after childbirth. Alamin Uddin and Waleed Asif have founded NexHealth, which has raised $7 million to help doctor’s offices simplify paperwork and schedule appointments. A foursome — Manik Bhat, Eric Conner, Dan Levenson and Alex Villa — raised $9.6 million for Healthify, which connects Medicaid recipients to social services. And then there are some shocking ideas. Oren Miron thinks an auditory test might be used to diagnose autism. Kevin Eisenfrats is working on a male birth control that uses hydrogel to block sperm.
Not every gamechanger is an entrepreneur. Doug Jacobs shone a light on insurance practices that dissuade patients from getting care — leading the Department of Health and Human Services to brand those practices discrimination. And Trit Garg has improved clinical efficiency in a Stanford pilot program and lobbied the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to impose tighter restrictions on the use of expensive CT scans.
That’s just scratching the surface. Take a look at the list, and get a snapshot of the future of healthcare.
What do you think of the list? Join the conversation on Twitter with #30under30.
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