From Hoop Dreams to the Biopharma Big Time: Rob Perez on The Long Run

Today’s guest on the show is Rob Perez.

He grew up in a lower-middle class household in Los Angeles. Had some hoop dreams that never quite materialized. No big deal.

Perez found he had a knack for sales, and paid his way through college by working at fitness centers.

Rob Perez

Chance brought him into the pharmaceutical sales business. He liked meeting doctors, learning about medicine and how it could help people. He rose through the ranks, and ended up succeeding beyond his wildest dreams at Cubist Pharmaceuticals, the antibiotic developer acquired by Merck in 2015. Now he’s recruiting fellow biotech executives to put some of their money and talents to work on big, broad-based societal causes, like poverty and homelessness.

When you hear this personal story, I think you’ll see how this industry draws talented people from many walks of life, and how it can make an even bigger impact by simply remembering that fact. How can biotech do some more effective things to bridge some of the gaps in our society, to help some of the have-nots? He has some creative ideas to share on this score, and a model to study called Life Science Cares.


Re-Starting a Company, Keeping Hope Alive: Chip Clark on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Chip Clark.

Chip Clark, CEO, Genocea 

He’s the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Genocea Biosciences. This vaccine platform company got into a jam last summer. It completed a Phase II trial with its lead therapeutic vaccine for genital herpes. Clark tried to insist the trial was a success and the product had a future. The market disagreed. The stock tanked. Cash ran low. Morale ebbed.

Something had to be done.

How did Clark think about re-starting the company – pivoting, as he says – toward a new future as a personalized neoantigen cancer vaccine developer? Clark was pretty candid about this difficult stretch at Genocea, and I think many entrepreneurs will be able to relate to the experience and learn from it.


Charting His Own Entrepreneurial Course: Ethan Perlstein on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Ethan Perlstein.

Ethan Perlstein, founder and CEO, Perlara

He’s outspoken on social media, unafraid to occasionally rattle cages with the industry powers that be. He’s followed an unusual entrepreneurial path, starting a Public Benefit company, raising money from non-traditional sources, embracing ‘radical transparency,’ building an unusual model-organism based platform for drug discovery, and using his Internet savvy to mobilize partners to help him come up with treatments for rare diseases.

At the core, this is a guy who questions basic assumptions about the world and isn’t afraid to roll the dice and do things differently. I think you’ll enjoy hearing his thought process.


What Can You Do With Genomics and AI? Alice Zhang on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Alice Zhang.

Alice Zhang, co-founder and CEO, Verge Genomics

Let’s start with some basic background. Zhang studied systems biology at Princeton, graduated with honors, enrolled in an MD/PHD program at UCLA/Caltech, stayed there five years, quit, moved to Silicon Valley, and co-founded a company dedicated to using her knowledge for neurodegenerative drug discovery. She has been named among the Forbes 30-under-30.  

You get the idea. She’s smart. And young.

That’s nice, but what makes her more interesting to me as a guest for this show is her thoughtful approach to combining genomic data with artificial intelligence to improve drug discovery for complex multifactorial diseases. Specifically, the neurodegenerative kind. There are people out there thumping the tub, and drinking the AI Kool Aid, but I think Zhang has a pretty wise sense for what the AI can and can’t do. I learned a few things listening to her, and I think you will too.


The Immune Sequencing Frontier: Harlan and Chad Robins on The Long Run

Today on The Long Run are a pair of guests — Harlan and Chad Robins.

They are the brothers who co-founded Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies almost a decade ago. Chad is the CEO, and Harlan is the head of innovation.

Harlan Robins

Chad Robins

Adaptive, for those unfamiliar, has a specialized focus on sequencing regions of B-cells and T-cells of the adaptive immune system where the DNA isn’t fixed at birth – it rearranges, or adapts, to protect us from various environmental stimuli we encounter.

Seeing the adaptive immune code is useful for understanding immune system basics, but also in diagnosing disease and monitoring response to therapy. Immune sequencing, along with tumor sequencing like most of you have seen from Cambridge, Mass.-based Foundation Medicine, are among the most important early applications that have sprung to life based on Illumina’s next-gen sequencing platform.

Adaptive recently struck an ambitious partnership with Microsoft Research to create an antigen map, looking systemically at binding interactions between antigens and their corresponding T-cell receptors.

We talked some science, some business, and what it’s like to manage a company as brothers.



Teaching and Mentoring the Next Generation: Vicki Sato on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Vicki Sato. She’s one of the biotech industry’s pioneers.

Sato started out as a classic academic scientist on the Harvard faculty. Beginning in the mid-1980s, and for about 20 years, the next phase of her career was as an executive at Biogen and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. Her fingerprints are all over a number of drugs that are linchpins for those companies today.

Vicki Sato

The last decade or so she’s been a teacher and mentor — on the Harvard Business School faculty and as a board member. As a director of Bristol-Myers Squibb, Denali Therapeutics and Vir Biotechnology, she oversees strategic direction of companies working on treatments for cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and infectious disease. Having been around for this many years, she’s wise. And tough. But she’s also a warm person who cares a lot about the next generation of biotech leaders. She splits her time now between Boston and New York. Fun fact: She says she’s enjoying the culture of the Big City and dances the tango – competitively.

It was a treat to sit down with her and discuss her career arc.  

Before diving in, a word of thanks to the sponsors of the show: Presage Biosciences and Harvard Medical School executive education.

Next on The Long Run: Chad and Harlan Robins, the co-founders and brothers who run Seattle-based Adaptive Biotechnologies. This company has raised about $400 million over the years, and carved out a niche in immune sequencing, or immune profiling — a novel application of next-gen sequencing technology. We talked some about the science, the business strategy, and what it’s like to manage a company as brothers.

Now, join me and Vicki Sato for The Long Run.


Mt. Everest: It’s Time

Six months of hard training is in the bank. Tomorrow morning, I will lug a pair of 120-liter gear bags to the airport and get on the plane for Kathmandu.

Destination: Mt. Everest, 29,029 feet/8,848 meters. The summit of the highest mountain in the world.

No matter what happens, three things are certain: I’ve given it everything I’ve got to prepare physically and mentally. I’m in good hands with the guides at Alpine Ascents International. And I’m eternally grateful for all of your support for the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer campaign at Fred Hutch.

The fundraising total for cancer research stands at $329,110.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

What can you expect between now and when I get home to the U.S. on June 2?

  1. Six episodes of The Long Run podcast. They will air on schedule every two weeks through June 6. Vicki Sato is the guest on the next show. Watch for that one Mar. 28.
  2. Smart industry coverage. TR contributing writers Kyle Serikawa and Timothy Hay, formerly of The Wall Street Journal, will publish pieces.
  3. A pause on business correspondence. When on the mountain, I will be focused on the mountain. If you need to reach me about anything business-related, we’ll talk in June.
  4. Team updates from the mountain. Many of you want to know how to follow the expedition. I will not be blogging, tweeting or podcasting from Base Camp (see Everest FAQs). But expedition leader Ben Jones of Alpine Ascents International will narrate regular updates – in text and via satellite phone audio. Here’s the link to bookmark: https://www.alpineascents.com/climbs/mount-everest/cybercasts/
  5. Afterward, photos from the top of the world. I made sure my point-and-shoot digital zoom camera can be operated with bulky mittens. I will be carrying a notebook and pen (rated for -30 Fahrenheit temperatures). I’ll be thinking about articles, slideshows or talks that may come after the climb.

For more background on the Climb to Fight Cancer and the Everest expedition, check the links below.



Thank you to the folks at Fred Hutch, and a few special guests, for making this send-off video. I’ve really enjoyed working with you on this.

Keep pursuing your great adventures in biotech. — Luke

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