14
Mar
2018

From Rock DJ to Scientist to Entrepreneur: Michael Gilman on The Long Run Podcast

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Michael Gilman.

He’s the CEO of a pair of Boston-area biotech startups. One is Arrakis Therapeutics, a company attempting to make small molecule drugs against RNA targets. The other is Obsidian Therapeutics, a company seeking to take the next step in CAR-T immunotherapy, by carefully controlling dosing to avoid some of the worst side effects of these powerful cancer treatments.

Michael Gilman, CEO, Arrakis Therapeutics, Obsidian Therapeutics

I went into this conversation thinking I’d ask Gilman a fair bit about these young companies, because the science is darn interesting. We never quite got that far.

Instead we spent this time talking about Gilman’s early life and key turning points in his career. Gilman was on a hard core academic research career path for many years before entering industry. Then, around age 50, he became an entrepreneur. He clearly found something he’s good at – he’s 2-for-2 as an entrepreneur, having sold his first two companies to Biogen and Bristol-Myers Squibb, respectively.

Next episode of The Long Run: Vicki Sato. She’s one of the industry’s pioneers, and still very much active in the game. Sato started out as a classic academic scientist on the Harvard faculty. The next 20 years of her career were as an operating executive at Biogen and Vertex Pharmaceuticals. There, she put her fingerprints on a number of drugs that are linchpins for those companies today. The last decade or so she’s been a teacher and mentor — on the Harvard Business School faculty and as a board member. She’s wise, whip-smart, and suffers no fools behind the scenes. But she’s also a warm person who cares a lot about the next generation of biotech leaders. It was a treat to sit down with her and discuss her career path. Stay tuned for that episode.

Now, join me and Michael Gilman for The Long Run.

12
Mar
2018

Photo Gallery: The Boston Cancer Summit

What a whirlwind last week was! The Seattle and Boston Cancer Summits were an East-West combo punch on behalf of the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer fundraising campaign for Fred Hutch.

These events did the job: Bringing together leading thinkers and doers on both coasts, they both drew sellout, highly engaged crowds. The fundraising tally now stands at $326,000!!

The weather forecast for a nor’easter in Boston made me a little nervous, but the snow didn’t interfere. Everything came off without a hitch. Both of these gatherings were brimming with ideas, positive energy toward tackling the challenges of cancer R&D, good humor, and well wishes about my upcoming summit bid on the world’s highest mountain.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this campaign that began in October:

Summit: Sanofi

South Col: 10X Genomics

Advanced Base Camp:

Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Khumbu Icefall: Novateur

Base Camp:

Sofinnova Ventures

5AM Ventures

ARCH Venture Partners

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

EBD Group

Loncar Investments

Photo credit for the Boston Cancer Summit: David Parnes.

I also want to thank the great team of people who did so much work behind the scenes to make these events happen. At Fred Hutch in Seattle, that includes Cate Tambeaux, Kristin Nash, Kelly O’Brien, and Niki Robinson. At Sanofi Genzyme in Cambridge, special thanks go to Ashleigh Koss, Anna Robinson, and Christy Maginn.

Two from now, on Mar. 27, I will get on the plane for Nepal, and won’t be coming back from Everest until June 2. You can read FAQs about the expedition and donate to the campaign here if you haven’t already.

I’m feeling great physically, and privileged to be in position to do this climb and bring so much fundraising and attention to this moment of possibility in cancer research. Thanks to you being part of it.

Enjoy the photos!

BOSTON CANCER SUMMIT: MAR. 7, 2018

12
Mar
2018

Photo Gallery: The Seattle Cancer Summit

What a whirlwind last week was! The Seattle and Boston Cancer Summits were an East-West combo punch on behalf of the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer fundraising campaign for Fred Hutch.

These events did the job: Bringing together leading thinkers and doers on both coasts, they both drew sellout, highly engaged crowds. The fundraising tally now stands at $326,000!!

The weather forecast for a nor’easter in Boston made me a little nervous, but the snow didn’t interfere. Everything came off without a hitch. Both of these gatherings were brimming with ideas, positive energy toward tackling the challenges of cancer R&D, good humor, and well wishes about my upcoming summit bid on the world’s highest mountain.

Special thanks to the sponsors of this campaign that began in October:

Summit: Sanofi

South Col: 10X Genomics

Advanced Base Camp:

Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Takeda Pharmaceuticals

Khumbu Icefall: Novateur

Base Camp:

Sofinnova Ventures

5AM Ventures

ARCH Venture Partners

Alnylam Pharmaceuticals

EBD Group

Loncar Investments

Photo credits from the Seattle Cancer Summit were by Josh Belzman. Boston Cancer Summit photos were by David Parnes (see those in a separate post).

I also want to thank the great team of people who did so much work behind the scenes to make these events happen. At Fred Hutch in Seattle, that includes Cate Tambeaux, Kristin Nash, Kelly O’Brien, and Niki Robinson. At Sanofi Genzyme in Cambridge, special thanks go to Ashleigh Koss, Anna Robinson, and Christy Maginn.

Two from now, on Mar. 27, I will get on the plane for Nepal, and won’t be coming back from Everest until June 2. You can read FAQs about the expedition and donate to the campaign here if you haven’t already.

I’m feeling great physically, and privileged to be in position to do this climb and bring so much fundraising and attention to this moment of possibility in cancer research. Thanks to you being part of it.

SEATTLE CANCER SUMMIT: MAR.5, 2018

 

 

28
Feb
2018

Matching Up Technology & People: Bruce Booth on The Long Run Podcast

Bruce Booth is the latest guest on The Long Run podcast.

Booth, a partner with Atlas Venture, has made a name for himself the past few years as the author of the LifeSciVC blog. He writes about industry investment trends, the occasional news item from Atlas portfolio companies, and occasionally shines a light into the dark little corners of the venture capital business – in a way only an insider can.

Bruce Booth, partner, Atlas Venture

Bruce also likes his data. Like all scientists, he seeks to understand the world through data – the more the better, and often through helpful charts and graphs for visualization. But the job of a VC has many aspects that aren’t data-driven. Fundamentally, it’s often about matching up an exciting discovery or technology platform with the people who can develop it – people who can navigate the inevitably choppy seas ahead. People aren’t so easily reduced to data points. How do VCs evaluate the skills and character of people who are given money to run things? Are there enough people out there with the right stuff to meet this exciting moment in science? Where do people get to hone their entrepreneurial skills? How can the industry do a better job of developing scientific entrepreneurs, when companies don’t have much time for on-the-job-training, and everyone needs to deliver results ASAP?  

There is considerable debate in the industry on how this human capital development occurs. Some argue there’s an anti-youth bias, a desire among VCs to back the same insiders over and over. Others have become more vocal that not nearly enough is being done to advance into C-level and board-level roles. Booth is listening — he even wrote a new blog post about the issue yesterday

These are hard questions, and I think we both agree the industry can and must do better at developing its people. Talking about the issue is just the start. This is about building a thriving industry for the long haul.

Before diving in, thanks to the sponsors of The Long Run podcast — Presage Biosciences and EBD Group

Presage Biosciences has a microinjector device that enables intratumoral microdosing of experimental cancer drugs. Why does this matter? It enables researchers to evaluate several drugs at once against a single tumor, while the tumor is still in the patient. It’s in clinical trials now. To learn more, go to presagebio.com.

And did you know BIO-Europe Spring is only 2 weeks away – coming up Mar. 12-14 in Amsterdam. Listeners of this show can take a 200 Euro discount off registration to this major partnering event by typing in the special code “longrun” when registering.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER with ‘longrun’ discount code

Now, join me and Bruce Booth for The Long Run.

16
Feb
2018

All-Star Lineup for Boston Cancer Summit, March 7: Novartis, J&J, Third Rock, Atlas

Timmerman Report is bringing together major East Coast cancer R&D players for an intimate half-day event on March 7: the Boston Cancer Summit. Join an all-star gathering of pharma executives, hot startups, and VCs making things happen in the treatment and diagnosis of cancer. 

Tickets are sold out. The conference will be at Sanofi Genzyme’s flagship building in the heart of Kendall Square. All proceeds go to a good cause: basic cancer research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as part of my Everest Climb to Fight Cancer fundraising campaign.

We’ll talk about aiming for elusive cancer targets, where VCs see opportunities for investment, cancer diagnostics in the DNA information age, designing clinical trials for fast answers, and emerging modalities for cancer care. You’ll also see more than a few entrepreneurs who I consider to be newsmakers of tomorrow.

PROGRAM

1 pm. Registration and Networking.

1:30 pm Welcome Remarks. Luke Timmerman, founder of Timmerman Report. Kelly O’ Brien, VP of Philanthropy, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Gary Nabel, Chief Scientific Officer and Senior Vice President of Sanofi. 

1:40 pm

Emerging company presentations

A series of five brief, 10-minute presentations from exciting East Coast drug developers working to fight cancer in their own way. They are:

  • Barbara Weber, CEO, Tango Therapeutics (synthetic lethal cancer drugs)
  • Garry Menzel, CEO, TCR2 Therapeutics (T cell therapies aimed at solid tumors)
  • Nancy Simonian, CEO, Syros Pharmaceuticals (targeted drugs for gene expression)
  • Hugh O’Dowd, CEO, Neon Therapeutics (neoantigen therapeutics)
  • David Meeker, CEO, KSQ Therapeutics (CRISPRomics cancer drug discovery)

2:40 pm

Cancer investment overfloweth. Where do forward-looking VCs see opportunity?

Kush Parmar, managing partner, 5AM Ventures

  • John Evans, venture partner at ARCH Venture Partners
  • Kush Parmar, managing partner at 5AM Ventures
  • Alexis Borisy, partner at Third Rock Ventures
  • Moderator: Michael Gilman, CEO of Obsidian Therapeutics

3:10 pm

Cancer diagnostics in the DNA information age: Getting validated and rewarded via FDA/CMS parallel review

  • Melanie Nallicheri, chief business officer of Foundation Medicine
  • Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences
  • Moderator: Luke Timmerman

3:40 pm

Designing clinical trials for clear, fast (not too expensive) answers when the scientific sands are constantly shifting underneath your feet

  • Jo Lager, VP, head of development at Sanofi Oncology
  • Beth Trehu, chief medical officer of Jounce Therapeutic 
  • Moderator: Luke Timmerman

4:10 pm

Closing chat: New modalities for cancer care

Jay Bradner, president, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research

  • Jay Bradner, president of the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research
  • Robert Urban, global head of J&J Innovation
  • Moderator: Bruce Booth, partner at Atlas Venture

4:30 pm

Cocktail hour + the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer

Before the cocktail hour, I might have a couple minutes for a fun surprise to give you a taste of the Everest climb.


When & Where

TIME: 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.

DATE: March 7

PLACE: Sanofi Genzyme, 500 Kendall St., Cambridge, MA

TICKETS:

At the Door: $350


Sponsors: Thank you

Summit Sponsor:

  • Sanofi

South Col Sponsor:

  • 10X Genomics

Advanced Base Camp Sponsors:

  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals
  • Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Khumbu Icefall Sponsor:

  • Novateur

Base Camp Sponsors:

  • 5AM Ventures
  • Sofinnova Ventures
  • Arch Venture Partners
  • EBD Group
  • Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
  • Loncar Investments

 

15
Feb
2018

Mingle in Seattle with Genentech, Celgene, OrbiMed, 5AM & More, March 5

Exclusive Event, Powerhouse Lineup: Seattle Cancer Summit

Seattle biotech events don’t get any better than this.

Timmerman Report is bringing together major West Coast players for an intimate half-day event on March 5: the Seattle Cancer Summit. Tickets are limited and going fast. And all proceeds go to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as part of my Everest Climb to Fight Cancer.

We’ll talk about major trends in industrial cancer R&D, hear from entrepreneurs working to fight cancer in unique ways, be inspired by opportunities for startups, and look into the future, including the fascinating role of AI in cancer research.

This is a special moment in time in the fight against cancer. Scientists are more than just chipping away at cancer. They are kicking down the barricades. This summit is a rare chance for 150 people to come together to understand the trends and opportunities in our biotech center.

Register here now, because you don’t want to miss this stellar lineup:

PROGRAM

1:00 pm. Registration/networking

1:30 pm Welcome remarks. Niki Robinson, Fred Hutch

1:35 pm. Opening chat:

Rob Hershberg, EVP, head of business development and global alliances, Celgene

Major trends in industrial cancer R&D

James Sabry, SVP, Genentech Partnering

Rob Hershberg, EVP, head of business development, Celgene

Moderator: Andy Schwab, managing partner, 5AM Ventures

2:10 pm.

Emerging company presentations (10 minutes each)

UPDATED PRESENTER: Cliff Stocks, CEO, OncoResponse (antibody drug discovery) 

Colleen Delaney, CMO, Nohla Therapeutics (off the shelf cell therapy for blood cancers)

Joe Victor, CEO, RareCyte (single cell analysis)

Ali Tehrani, CEO, Zymeworks (bispecific antibodies)

2:50 pm

Julie Sunderland, general partner, Biomatics Capital Partners

Cancer biology is moving fast. Where are the big opportunities for startups?

Thong Le, CEO, Accelerator Life Science Partners

Julie Sunderland, managing director, Biomatics Capital

Mitch Gold, executive chairman and CEO, Alpine Immune Sciences

Moderator: Niki Robinson, VP, Fred Hutch

3:30 pm. 

Networking

Since this will be a small event with about 150 people, you will have a chance to mix and mingle with the speakers.

4 pm.

What will scientists do with an AI-driven map of antigens and T-cell receptors?

Chad Robins, CEO, Adaptive Biotechnologies

Moderator: Sam Blackman, SVP, Silverback Therapeutics

4:30 pm.

Jay Shendure, professor of genome sciences, UW; director, Brotman Baty Institute

Where is science and industry going in the next five years?

Jay Shendure, professor of Genome Sciences, UW, director of Brotman Baty Institute

Clay Siegall, CEO, Seattle Genetics

Peter Thompson, private equity partner, OrbiMed Advisors

Moderator: Monica Beam, SVP, Alexandria Venture Investments

5:10 pm

A Word on the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer

Before the cocktail hour, I might have a couple minutes for a fun surprise related to my Everest climb.

5:15 pm.

Networking

6 pm END


REGISTER FOR THE SEATTLE CANCER SUMMIT HERE

Tickets are limited and going fast. All proceeds go to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as part of my Everest Climb to Fight Cancer.


When & Where

TIME: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

DATE: March 5

PLACE: Fred Hutch, Pelton Auditorium, 1100 Fairview Avenue N., Seattle

TICKETS:

Advance Registration: $295

At the Door: $350


Sponsors: Thank you

Summit Sponsor:

  • Sanofi

South Col Sponsor:

  • 10X Genomics

Advanced Base Camp Sponsors:

  • Takeda Pharmaceuticals
  • Alexandria Real Estate Equities

Khumbu Icefall Sponsor:

  • Novateur

Base Camp Sponsors:

  • 5AM Ventures
  • Sofinnova Ventures
  • Arch Venture Partners
  • EBD Group
  • Alnylam Pharmaceuticals
  • Loncar Investments

 

 

14
Feb
2018

Building a Cancer R&D Engine To Last: David Schenkein on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is David Schenkein. He’s the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Agios Pharmaceuticals.

Agios was founded a decade ago on the then-provocative idea of fighting cancer via new understanding of metabolic pathways that get hijacked by cancer cells. The company has grown up quite a bit since. It went from concept to new chemical entities to clinical trials to a drug on the US market in something akin to warp speed in biotech – 10 years. The company’s second drug candidate – a molecule it owns completely on its own — is now under review at the FDA for the treatment of a form of acute myeloid leukemia. In a world of short-term gains and desire for the quick flip, Schenkein is unflinching in his desire to build another productive and lasting cancer R&D group, like Genentech.

David Schenkein, CEO, Agios Pharmaceuticals

Schenkein also has an interesting personal story. While most outsiders think biotech is nothing but eggheads from Harvard and Stanford doing stuff only they can understand, here’s a guy who went to a no-name school, and went further than most of the kids with perfect test scores. As my friend Ben Fidler at Xconomy, in a profile a few years ago, wrote: “David Schenkein is a kid from Queens. An underdog. The kid who barely eked his way into medical school.”

How did the underdog win? What is Agios doing to deliver the goods for patients over and over, to develop truly enduring drug discovery and development mojo? There’s a story here.

Before you hit ‘play’ I’d like to thank the sponsors of the The Long Run: Presage Biosciences and EBD Group.

Check out Presage Biosciences and its intratumoral microdosing approach to testing experimental cancer drugs. To learn more, go to presagebio.com.

We’re only four weeks away from BIO-Europe Spring, Mar. 12-14 in Amsterdam. Listeners of The Long Run may click on the banner below and type in the discount code “longrun” to take 200 Euros off the usual registration fee.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER. Don’t Forget to Type ‘longrun’ As the Registration Code for 200 Euros Off!

Now, join me and David Schenkein for The Long Run.

5
Feb
2018

The Caveman’s Guide to Productivity

One TR subscriber already knew about some of my quirks: he and I rode in a van together for 26 hours straight to do the 200-mile Ragnar Reach the Beach Relay in New Hampshire. But when I published last month’s column detailing my Everest training, he wanted to know more. “I study performance pretty carefully, so all these kinds of questions fascinate me,” wrote Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Morphic Therapeutic.

Praveen Tipirneni, CEO, Morphic Therapeutic

So, for those of you interested in the mental game and productivity in general, I’m going to go ahead and expose my inner weirdo here. Plus, it just may help the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer at the Fred Hutch. (If you haven’t donated yet, be part of the campaign that’s raised $142,000 so far for cancer research. Or join me for the star-studded Seattle Cancer Summit on March 5 and the Boston Cancer Summit March 7 — 100% of ticket sales go straight to Fred Hutch.)

If you missed the first training column, it’s a good idea to read that first. The rest of this will make a little more sense. Maybe.

Here are my answers to Praveen’s questions: 

Praveen Tipirneni: How did you go about coming up with that morning routine? Did you consider anything else? If so, how did you get to this one?

Me: I’ve always been a morning person. So when I started running, to train for the 2000 Seattle Marathon, a morning run just fit. I found that running cleared some of my nervous energy and helped me relax and start the day with a lot of energy. Running seemed to help me put my best foot forward at work. I remember I was trying to make a good impression at my first major metro newspaper job, in my mid-20s, at The Seattle Times. And I quickly realized I had a natural ability for running, same as my Dad. So I stuck with it after the marathon.

Then I started covering biotech and seeing the horrors of chronic disease for so many people. I recognized that I had been dealt a good set of genetics, but it was up to me to maintain my health so that I wouldn’t be put in such a vulnerable position later in life.

Along with my run, I bike to and from work. I have never been a car commuter in the 20 years since graduating college and going to work. My wife and I have always chosen to live close enough to work that we could both bike. For eight years, we didn’t own a car. That’s one reason we had enough savings to start Timmerman Report, without seeking VC or angel money. At the end of 2015, we bought one car; we still bike for short trips.

Rain or shine, bicycling is how I get to work. There’s no choice in the matter for me on a daily basis. I don’t even think about alternatives, only maybe wearing a different piece of gear.

Over the years, I’ve adjusted my morning routine as needed. When our daughter was born in 2012, I’d get up a little earlier to run before she’d wake up. At 6 months old, I got a jogging stroller that I could buckle her into and push along the roads and trails, while my wife caught up on sleep. Now our daughter is in kindergarten. My wife freelances to be home with her after school, and I handle the morning shift. So I run early enough to be back in time to make her breakfast and get her ready for school. Then I bike to work.

How did you turn it into a habit? What failures or setbacks did you encounter? (i.e., are you able to hit everyday? Or were there days that you just didn’t feel like getting out of bed?)

I’m a huge believer that habits make us who we are. Excellence is a habit. If we are intentional about forming lots of the little habits that make us who we are, we can swap in good habits to replace some, or most, of our bad habits.

Getting to bed on time at 10 pm (8 or 9 pm during Everest training) is crucial to “setting myself up for success” the next day. I think it was Ben Franklin who said, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.’ Or something like that (see goofball meme below).

In any case, I literally can’t stay awake any later when I’m working out like this.

Running has become automatic for me because I don’t have to think about any aspect of it. My gear is always in the same place. I always leave at the same time. My route is always the same. I’m not thinking, should I run or bike today? Should I do intervals or track work? I don’t give myself the option to skip if I don’t feel like it or if the weather’s lousy. At this point it’s like brushing my teeth: it’s just what I do, every day.

Failures and setbacks? Injuries would be the big one. I’m an office worker who has at times had very bad ergonomic work posture. I’ve had off-and-on issues with lower back spasms that have been painful enough to sideline me for weeks at a time. I have a good chiropractor and manual ligament therapy guy who have helped me address my posture issues and get back running. But I feel more anxiety and blue mood swings when I’m not able to run. It motivates me to attack underlying causes of injury, whether posture or dehydration or not warming up, so that I can get back to running as soon as possible.

What obstacles were there? What did you have to change about your lifestyle? (kids / wife?)

The biggest challenge is with time management. Training for Everest is very time-consuming. It forces me to think through my priorities and discard everything that’s marginal. I deactivated Facebook a long time ago. I stopped watching TV completely – there’s no antenna or cable in our house. I used to be a big sports fan, watching perhaps 50 NFL and college football games per season (maybe 150 hours per year). This year, I watched one football game (3 hours). Basketball, I used to watch a lot, and no longer watch. I basically wake up, work out, see my family, run my business for about 50-60 hours a week, eat and sleep. Recognizing the toxic and manipulative effects of social media, I have greatly curtailed my use, and greatly increased my reading of books in the evening. This is about maximizing time. At times in the past, I’ve worked 80 hours a week in bursts, but I find the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and those extra hours usually aren’t that productive. It’s better for me to work 50-60 hours, and then replenish the creative juices for the next day by reading books in the evening.

I’m not great at keeping in touch with my friends and family, but I play fantasy baseball with long-distance friends, my wife and I host occasional game nights, we have a theater subscription with friends, and I try to call my parents every other week.

There are other more mundane things about life that I just choose to de-prioritize, if not ignore. Personal grooming, for instance. I only shave once a week. I shower once a week, sometimes less. I let my hair grow long, cut it maybe once every 4-6 months. Some of this is a function of being a bootstrap entrepreneur. I don’t have a boss, or colleagues, or shareholders. When I worked at Bloomberg News, I once showed up in a nice sweater instead of a shirt and tie. My editor said “What the hell do you think this is, a volleyball match? Come here tomorrow wearing a tie.” Now that I run Timmerman Report, the only thing that matters in my business is whether my creativity shines – I can skip all that other stuff that’s time-consuming and not value-adding.

You may wonder, “Don’t you stink?” Curiously, no. I can’t prove it, but I believe that dropping deodorant and all those soaps and other fancy things consumer-product companies want us to buy has prompted my microbiome to adapt to a new reality. I sweat a lot, three to four times a day, and yet don’t get stinky. I do change into clean shirts at the office, and I do my laundry regularly, because the clothing will smell. But dropping all these aspects of personal grooming frees up time for me to focus on my business and other things I’m interested in.

Of course, I want to be respectful of cultural norms when I go places, so I wear a sport coat when I go to JP Morgan, try to look professional when I show up for a “Hood” book talk, etc. But those are only occasional time investments.

In general, I question cultural norms. Why is everyone showering 15 minutes a day? Why is everyone driving to work? Because everyone else is doing it. I don’t think that’s a good reason. I might do it, but it better be for another reason.

I’m like a caveman. After Everest, I should go around giving a talk called The Caveman’s Guide to Productivity.

Was there any discussion of cost benefit with the family? Training obviously takes up a lot of time for a great cause. How did you think about the cause in comparison to opportunity cost with family time?)

Family time is very important to me, and it’s one thing I’ve tried hard to maintain. I’m home for dinner. We bought a child carrier hiking backpack. That way, we can go as a family on longer, steeper weekend hikes—which has been fun for all of us. And when my wife gives a parenting talk, is up against a book deadline, or has a nonprofit board meeting, I’m home with our daughter.

My wife and I do miss out on some evening conversation because I’m snoring so early. Work often gets pushed to the weekend. This morning she had to ask me, “How was your day yesterday?” But it’s temporary and we’re making it work. Earlier this year, when she trained for an Olympic distance triathlon, we all went to the pool together. And she and I traded off workout times during our summer road trip. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Being a solo parent for two and a half months? It’s not her preference, but she’s not overly worried about it. We are fortunate to have family nearby, as well as friends who are like family. As for our kindergartner, she thought last year’s three-week climb on Aconcagua (highest peak in South America) was long enough. She’s not keen on 10 weeks for Everest. Putting it in perspective, though, children have survived worse.

My wife knows how important the Everest Climb to Fight Cancer cause is to me—how important it is to me that I do something positive for science, something uplifting and unifying in these tumultuous times. She has been supportive of this climb (and all of my climbs over the years). It’s not only because I’m a responsible climber going with one of the best guide services in the business, but also because I haven’t neglected my family.

My family, my business, and my athletic pursuits are the things that matter most to me. So that’s what my day consists of.

You said you are doing 4 workouts. Why so many? Are you able to recover in between? Are you not reaching the intensity levels you need? I don’t believe that even Olympic athletes do 4 workouts / day (could be wrong but never heard that).

I’d say the personal trainer and the stair-climbing with a backpack are the workouts I’ve added for Everest training. I continue biking to work because that’s how I’ve always gotten to work, it’s not that intense, and there’s no parking at my office anyway, at least none I’m willing to pay for. I run for all the reasons I mentioned. It’s how I keep up my baseline fitness and it’s worked for me for my other mountain-climbing trips.

Is that too many workouts in a day? Probably. I told my wife that the biggest risk for Everest was getting lazy and not training hard enough, and she laughed. “Not for you,” she said. “Your biggest risk is overdoing it and injuring yourself before you even go.” So she reins me in, making sure I take rest days and pointing out that carrying an 80-pound backpack five months before the climb may not be super strategic. I’ve backed off, and now regularly carry 20 to 50 pounds in my training backpack.

It’s hard to strike the balance of too much or too little. This is Everest.

Also an intriguing point about being more alert in the afternoon – so would you continue this even without the challenge now that you seen the productivity enhancements.

I discovered the afternoon productivity boost by accident. While training for Denali in 2013, I did heavy backpack work on stairs near my office. (Conveniently, I work near the longest staircase in the city, the Howe Street Stairs, 388 steps. Or I do the next one over, the Blaine Street Stairs, which are about the same.) I knew I got a lot of my best ideas while running in the morning, and I noticed it again while in motion during the middle of the day. Getting the blood moving, and fresh air outside, gave me more energy to finish strong and hit my writing deadlines in the afternoon.

I’ve now also discovered what has the opposite effect: a strength workout with a personal trainer who is on a mission to kick your ass. It takes me an hour or two to recover mentally from that. So the productivity boost, at least for me, comes from 30-45 minutes of cardio.

Why the strength training? 

As mentioned in the previous Everest training column, I will be pulling ropes, so that requires more core and upper body strength than I’m used to using. But there’s also a mental edge. As in feeling like I’m a lean-mean machine with a motor that won’t quit, even when there are 50 mph winds and it’s -60 Fahrenheit on the world’s highest mountain.

In terms of mental game, what are you thinking about during the workout? Listening to music / Are you able to brainstorm or get ideas for writing while working out? Is it meditative?

I don’t run with music. I do think about the day ahead while running, and often get my best ideas for the day during this time. Sometimes I feel the urge to grab a notebook and jot things down so I don’t forget.

For very long, slower runs while marathon training, or on solo weekend hikes, I like to listen to podcasts. I can get lost in listening to these things. An hour will pass and I’m almost forgetting that I’m exerting myself at 100+ heartbeats a minute. This is very creative time for me. I make novel connections, think about strategy for my business, craft the lead for an upcoming column, or come up with questions for an interview.

Are you mentally stronger when you were younger? If so, in what way? Does your motivation come from the good cause or would you be this disciplined without a motivating goal?

I’m stronger mentally than when I was younger, but some powerful lifelong habits were forged then. I’ve always been a pretty disciplined, straight arrow type. My dad was in the U.S. military Special Forces, the Army Rangers, in Vietnam. I grew up on a small family farm. Hard manual labor – heaving hay bales, shoveling corn to feed pigs, shoveling the shit, carrying 5-gallon buckets of water uphill to fill troughs – these things were a fact of life multiple times a day, every day, from about the age of 6-7 to the age of 18.

That instilled habits of hard work, doing things whether you want to or not, not wasting time. But the thing that I have now is the mental willpower to optimize. For instance, I used to drink beer fairly regularly, sometimes 1-2 a day. With Everest training, I resolved in October to eliminate alcohol completely to avoid the extra dehydration and improve my sleep. I replaced the beer with water and sparkling water. You have to plug in a new habit to replace an old one. I do have vices like drinking coffee and diet soda, which I haven’t tried to eliminate.

Any apps or workout aids you’ve found helpful?

Don’t use any workout apps. I think the technology stuff is more about data-capture for the companies to engage in advertising schemes that productize me. I see very little benefit, if any, for individual users. However, in training for her triathlon, my wife liked the Training Peaks app. Her coach loaded her workouts into the app, where completed workouts turn green and missed workouts turn red. She didn’t want to get any red ones. So whether apps are helpful may depend on your level of self-motivation—although I’d say having a coach probably makes the bigger difference.

I have a Garmin GPS running watch, which I sometimes use to check running pace. And I like noting my overnight resting heart rate (40-45 bpm). I never download the data or look at it later.

Having a personal trainer does show me what’s possible when someone else is pushing me. Two weeks ago, I decided to go fast up Mount Si, usually a two-hour hike, and it took 81 minutes. It felt like I was gliding. I felt pretty good about that. Last week, I went up the old Mailbox Peak trail – 4,000 feet vertical – in 1 hour 50 minutes, on a trail that was slushy and snowy and slow. Again, this is hammering home the sense in my own mind of anything being possible. Gliding up a 4,000-foot slope in less than 2 hours? With 40 mph winds and sleet in my face the last half-hour above the treeline? Bring it on.

Any pre-workout routine? I didn’t hear anything about flexibility. And when we were in van for Ragnar, you said you just wake up and immediately head out the door.

I used to skip the warmup, but now I do a brief dynamic warmup. I sort of goose-step, do some lateral movements, and do some shoulder circles and shrugs. I stretch my legs for a couple minutes when I get home from a run. My flexibility has never been good, and it can use more work, but I haven’t quite figured out a way to get that in the routine. I took one yoga class with my wife last year, if that counts.

Any changes in diet?

I eat a pretty big dinner. Afterward, I’m eying what’s left on my 6-year-old’s plate. Later, I snack on some cheese. Since starting Everest training, I’ve probably been eating 800-1000 extra calories a day. The bigger food budget was something we didn’t really think about ahead of time. My daughter calls me a Hungry Hungry Hippo.

It helps that I’m pretty much indifferent to the taste of food – I see it primarily as fuel for the engine. There’s quality food and there’s junk food, and I don’t want junk food in my engine. I eat a mix of protein/fat/complex carbs, green leafy vegetables, and fruits. But it’s pretty easy to make your lunch when all you need to do is dump a tin of tuna and a handful of spinach onto two slices of bread. Whereas my wife would be mixing in mayo with relish or capers, and chopping up little pieces of Mama Lil’s Peppers. I barely even know what those things are, couldn’t find them in the grocery store. I don’t want to spend time on food – thinking about recipes, prepping, cooking, cleaning up after – these things don’t strike me as good investments of time. I try to minimize the time spent on those tasks. I would never dream of spending money on fancy stuff just for flavor.

My body has this homeostasis at 170 pounds, which hasn’t changed, but I’m adding more muscle and just getting super lean now. I’m trying to add in some more fats—yogurt, nuts, eggs—to add some reserves for my body to burn high on the mountain. Like most climbers, I expect to lose 15-20 pounds on Everest, and most of that will be muscle mass. You can expect to see a scrawny character show up at BIO in Boston in early June, fresh off the mountain.  

31
Jan
2018

Big Idea, Big Money, Big Skepticism: The Long Run Podcast With Stephane Bancel

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Stephane Bancel.

He’s the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Moderna Therapeutics.

The company, and the man at the helm, are somewhat controversial. Google Bancel’s name, and the ‘People Also Search For’ window shows famous entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk…and Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos infamy.

Stephane Bancel, CEO, Moderna Therapeutics

Each situation for those entrepreneurs is different, and comparisons break down pretty quickly, but a few common themes do stand out. Big technology ideas, big investment, lofty rhetoric, and a penchant for keeping a lot of crucial technology details secret.

The idea at Moderna is to turn messenger RNA molecules into drugs themselves. Inject the mRNA code, allow it to get inside cells to produce full-functioning proteins, and voila, as Bancel likes to say, it’s sorta like software code that enables humans to become into their own protein drug factories. Dazzling, right?

Tantalizing as the concept is, it has long been dismissed as sci-fi. mRNA, for starters, can’t get into cells and make fully functioning proteins without triggering autoimmune reactions, to raise one common objection. Yet Moderna has been able to convince enough investors and partners to throw $2 billion behind its efforts over the last eight years to create this new modality of treatment. Most of the money arrived before Moderna had any data in humans. For years, it divulged little about its technology or its preclinical data at scientific conferences. That naturally bred suspicion, and – truth be told – envy.

In this episode, I talk a lot with Bancel about his life, career arc, and influences that shape the way he thinks at Moderna. In the latter part of the show, we talk about some of the particular ups and downs and lessons learned at the company. This episode was recorded at the recent JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. I’ll also say he has a French accent, and I occasionally misunderstand a word he says here or there, but I don’t think you’ll have any trouble listening.

Now, listen to Stephane Bancel on The Long Run.