When taking stock of lessons learned from entrepreneurship, David Berry, M.D., Ph.D, acknowledges the characteristics inherent to the territory.
“When you want to do something without precedent, you have to have the creativity, the will and the conviction to take the steps necessary,” Berry said.
And he should know: Berry, a serial entrepreneur, counts names like Indigo Agriculture and T2 Biosystems among the 25-plus companies he has helped bring to fruition as a general partner at Flagship Pioneering, which focuses on launching companies in fields like life sciences and technology.
In the case of Valo, the Boston-based company of which Berry is founder and CEO, the precedent he’s after is a drug discovery and development process that is faster, less expensive and has a higher probability of success.
How? By using integrated data and development, a tech framework Berry says has transformed “industry after industry.” For the pharmaceutical industry, Valo’s Opal Computational Platform uses human-centric data and AI-driven computation, and, according to Valo’s website, has led to two product candidates in Phase 2 clinical trials along with 15 others in the discovery stage.
Berry also has aspirations of bringing about wide adoption with Valo, which announced a hefty Series B in 2021.
“I’m focused on continuing to build and scale Valo to become the standard drug discovery and development platform for the pharmaceutical industry,” he said.
Below, Berry took Built In through the founding vision behind Valo, the advice that’s powered him forward and the challenges he’s overcome along the way.
What prompted you to start the company?
I saw a really powerful opportunity to rewrite the drug discovery process by taking the historically siloed industry of pharmaceutical development, with its legacy architecture, and create a fundamentally new way to discover and develop drugs leveraging an integrated data and development model — a framework that tech has done in industry after industry, yielding dramatic benefits that I believe will translate to benefits for patients. After all, with only 1,500 approved drugs for 13,000 diseases, that is the transformation that patients need.
“With only 1,500 approved drugs for 13,000 diseases, [rewriting the drug discovery process] is the transformation that patients need.”
To whom did you look for inspiration early on?
I have been inspired by people as well as by experiences. One inspirational experience, in particular, has been the work that I have done — and continue to do — as a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. When I co-authored the global development goals, I was inspired to step back and think about how I can have a real global impact.
My Ph.D. thesis advisor, Bob Langer, used to say, “Focus on big problems, because big and small problems are equally hard to solve.’” It is in this spirit that I like to ask questions like: How can we build something that will unlock the transformation of the drug discovery and development process on behalf of the countless patients and families across the globe fighting disease?
“How can we unlock the transformation of the drug discovery and development process on behalf of the countless patients and families across the globe fighting disease?”
I have learned that entrepreneurs have to make their own path. When you want to do something without precedent, you have to have the creativity, the will and the conviction to take the steps necessary. I firmly believe that those of us who are inspired to make a difference in the world signed up to live the vision we are trying to create.
What scared you the most during your first few years as a founder?
I would say it was a challenge more than fear. It was about finding the right balance that is essential to successful entrepreneurship: maintaining an abundance of creativity to imagine a new company and having the necessary conviction and focus on execution while simultaneously maintaining the ability to be nimble so that you can pivot rapidly when necessary. All of these things are essential — and don’t always complement each other — and have a constant presence when you are just starting a company.
I'm focused on continuing to build and scale Valo to become the standard drug discovery and development platform for the pharmaceutical industry.