The Lionel Messi of Biology?


He turned 46 years old last week, and at the end of 2011 he chose to leave a coveted academic position as Principal Investigator in the Department of Medicine at Cambridge University (UK).

Really? Has he done that? Is this guy crazy? Even his beloved mum told him before prematurely passing away last year: "How can you be possibly do that, dear? What is more exciting than being faculty at Cambridge University?" True. It was tough, but he wanted to go. David Grainger had to go because he needed to follow his logic.

Let me rewind: he became a Principal Investigator when he was 30 years old, making him one of the youngest faculty members at Cambridge University. "One of the smartest scientists I ever met" - I have now heard this sentence several times, from unrelated sources. During his academic career at Cambridge his many published original papers brought significant contributions to various fields: the role of TGF beta in heart disease underpinned the coated-stents developed by Boston Scientific; the characterization of metabolic profiles in coronary heart disease is the origin of a large scientific and industrial endeavor, that has been flourishing since his early publications in 2001.

But scientific insight is only one of several amazing traits: he has co-founded 9 biotech companies. He simply can't resist the urge of building a dedicated effort to demonstrate the applied  relevance of his scientific breakthroughs. One of his 9 companies is a CRO, his CRO, that has been delivering fee-for-service work for several dozen industrial clients; importantly, this lab facility also represents the garage where he plays with his new ideas, where he identifies new IP angles and where he incubates the rest of his venture companies.

Most notably, he founded FunXional Therapeutics, a young biotech company that Index Ventures come across through Kevin Johnson and which is chaired by Michele Ollier . The ambitious goal of FunXional was to demonstrate the clinical relevance in inflammation of a completely new mode of action, discovered by David in his Cambridge University lab, at Addenbrooks Hospital. The program has just been bought by Boehringer Ingelheim as the lead molecule was entering Ph2 clinical testing.

Yet still this is not all. In addition to being a world-class scientist and start-up entrepreneur, David has got another gift: I am sure many of you in the biotech and pharma industry regularly enjoy his recent and increasingly popular blog ("DrugBaron" has already had more than 10k unique visitors) as well as his twitter feed. @sciencescanner tweets are dense with scientific insights, uncompromising views of the key scientific events that shape the industry, and crystal clear analysis of business models and trends. By the way, I have witnessed this: he can write his impactful and sharp posts while he is on the phone involved in deep conversations with others.

Really a Lionel Messi then?  Well no.  David is no footballer.  Even though he is no help at all in the yearly football games played in August at the Index Forum, how could we let him go? Index Ventures is delighted to announce that David is joining us, as Venture Partner. We have been working together for 7 years. He will help us identify breakthrough science that can be vertically morphed into candidate medicines. And by the way, he will also be at @PlaygroundBio this coming Thursday, October 18th, talking to young scientists about his incredible experience and professional journey. That journey is only just starting.