BioBoss

#27 - Jacob Becraft: Co-Founder & CEO, Strand Therapeutics

September 26, 2020 Jacob Becraft and John Simboli Season 2 Episode 13
BioBoss
#27 - Jacob Becraft: Co-Founder & CEO, Strand Therapeutics
Show Notes Transcript

Jacob Becraft, co-founder & CEO of Strand Therapeutics shares his thoughts with BioBoss host John Simboli about leadership and how Strand is working in synthetic biology and messenger RNA to target root causes of genetic disease, with the power to control editing at a single-cell level.

Jacob Becraft  
It's not saying that this is a bike but with a bell. It's this is a bike but with a motor. And that motor is, of course, incredibly important if you're trying to optimize for speed of the bike.

John Simboli  
That's the voice of Jacob B. Kraft, co-founder and CEO of Strand Therapeutics, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Listen in now to hear my conversation with Jake, his thoughts on leadership and how Strand is working to target the root causes of genetic disease, with the power to control editing at a single-cell level. 

John Simboli  
I'm John Simboli. You're listening to BioBoss.

John Simboli  
Today I'm speaking with Jake Becraft, co-founder and CEO at Strand Therapeutics. Welcome to BioBoss, Jake,

Jacob Becraft  
Thanks a lot, John. Glad to be here. 

John Simboli  
How did you find yourself at Strand Therapeutics?

Jacob Becraft
My path on the way to starting and now running Strand Therapeutics goes all the way back to, I think, when I was a teenager, and I started to study, in my high school biology classes studying DNA. And we studied DNA, and then we studied human disease. And what quickly became apparent, especially in a lot of modern diseases, cancer, heart disease, genetically inherited disease, cystic fibrosis, anything, the heart of that was that dysregulation of the genes that we all possess. And so that set me on a path through my undergraduate study is to look across gene therapy, looking at ways that we can replace or augment faulty genes. And so that led me all the way to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I did my Ph.D. with Ron Weiss in the synthetic biology center, and really have been focused, , for the past 10 years on this idea of how do we create and deliver new genes to people that can fix underlying problems and their, genetic code, and the way that their body is processing that genetic code.

John Simboli 
And as you began to uncover what it was that you wanted to focus on, did you go through a process where you said to yourself, and maybe to your colleagues there at the Synthetic Biology Center, maybe we could take this idea, and we could take it to someplace that already has money structure, building, all that kind of stuff? And then we can develop it there? Or was it pretty clear it had to start from scratch, from the beginning?

Jacob Becraft
That's always an option, especially in a school like MIT. The first thought that kind of comes to a lot of people's minds is the professors are all very well networked into the biotech community. And so, can we do some good work file IP on that, and then, usher it out into the world in some predefined pipeline. The problem is that sometimes technologies constitute what I call revolutionary change, a type of thinking process that goes so foundational, in its way to reshape how we think of any sort of modality, that the only way to bring it forward is actually to be the true shepherd of your work. And so what we were doing at MIT was completely new for a number of reasons. And in a couple of different ways, we had these aspects of programmable genes where the genes could go into the body and actually interact with the body instead of just kind of dump in and express themselves however they want. And real ways to actually build on what was known about the biology. But what was becoming true and becoming clear, as we started to bring that forward, and started to approach different companies about it was that it was so new, that it would really need a true champion, to bring it forward, to bring it to patients, to make a huge difference. And it's my personal belief that there's no better shepherd of research than the researchers themselves. There's no person more bought in and passionate about seeing it be successful. 

John Simboli  
I would be guessing that there was a refining process with you and your MIT colleagues to say, okay, we decided we know this area that we want to pursue, and we know that, as you said, we need to shepherd it ourselves. Was there an extended period of working out exactly what that would be? Or, in which case, how do you know when to stop that process? That's part of the question. And then the other part of the question is was there that famed "aha" moment where you and your colleagues said, yeah, this is it. This is where we want to go.

Jacob Becraft
It was less of like single moments or a single push forward and more of a process that kind of evolved over time. And it happened in a number of steps. , when we first started the work back in 2012-2013, we were looking at the entire field of where could we apply this sort of technology. And I think the fact that gene therapy is so broadly applicable that it could theoretically be applied anywhere is both exciting, but also daunting. You're looking at an essentially unlimited opportunity scape. And so you narrow it into where you think you can have an immediate sort of effect. 

Jacob Becraft  
And we did that; we started out with a couple of areas, we were looking at vaccines, we were looking at immuno-oncology, cancer, immunotherapy areas and showed some great work there. But really, I guess the aha moment was less of us all at once, coming together and saying, we have to take this technology out, we're going to do this, it was more a process of showing the technology off to people and, seeing if we could license it out to someone. But then at the same time, myself and my business co-founder, who had been a postdoc in the lab while I was a graduate student, he went off and worked at a hedge fund for a couple of years. For about three years, he was a buy-side analyst at this multi-billion dollar hedge fund. And I went and consulted and worked on some projects with a couple of venture capital groups around biotech venture capital around Boston. And so I was getting this early stage view of companies, and how do you create and what is an opportunity, and what is just a technology. And he was getting this view of here's what the entire market looks like. And here's where opportunities lie in the whole landscape. 

Jacob Becraft  
And there is one day that stands out, in my mind, it was in October of 2017  when we were finishing up a draft of a paper we were writing, and he and I were talking about opportunities that I was seeing at early-stage companies and opportunities he was seeing in the competitive landscape, and where people were having successes clinically in a number of disease areas, including immuno-oncology. And that was really the moment where the two of us were, and probably more so him than me to be completely honest, where we were saying, this is it. No one is seeing this opportunity. And there's all of this unmet need, both in the clinic and for patients, and no one can do certain aspects of this. No one can innovate on certain aspects of these diseases. But we've actually built the technology to fix a number of these problems. At that moment, we had, I guess, the idea of what would eventually become Strand Therapeutics. , we didn't know what it was going to be at that time, but it was really, , okay, I think there's something here. I don't know what we do with something here quite yet. But there is something here.

John Simboli  
Was it a belief from the beginning that there was another way to pursue the messenger RNA approach? Or was it just more finding information and finding your path as you got deeper and deeper into the data? Or this is some combination? 

Jacob Becraft  
That's a fantastic question. Really what it was, from the very beginning was the idea that with the guidance of, Ron Weiss, the director of the MIT synthetic biology center and my Ph.D. advisor, and, and Darrell Irvine, who is HHMI faculty member at the Koch Institute at MIT, really those two and a number of others, along with us and myself and Tasuku, my business co-founder, what we were looking across was mRNA, was just starting off, right? In 2012, Moderna was maybe a year old, BioNTech was a few years older and CureVac had been around for a while, but was still just getting up and running. So the field was just starting to take off. But at the same time, if you looked to other areas of gene therapy, you were seeing that for viral-based gene therapy, companies were trying to figure out, okay, we figured out that viruses can deliver genes. Now let's incorporate synthetic biology to make them a little smarter, to make them express only in certain areas. 

Jacob Becraft  
And so, what we started to do was we looked at Moderna and BioNTech and such as companies that we said, alright, if this works, if messenger RNA therapeutics works, which is what they were all testing, then what is the next revolutionary step in that game? And with viruses and DNA-based gene therapy, it's actually a lot easier because all of synthetic biology had already been built on top of DNA. People had been building tools to control DNA for 20 years since the 90s when synthetic biology happened. No one ever built it on RNA because there was really no reason to. RNA is a lot more difficult to deal with. And all the tools that had been kind of built to work within the RNA level actually didn't work once you change the paradigm to only be RNA. So you could make RNAs degrade themselves. But, unless you have DNA constantly making RNA, then you don't really have a way to turn things on and off. Once you degrade your RNA, you're done. 

Jacob Becraft  
And so we looked at the entire thing through the lens of both synthetic biology, but also making tools that would be relevant to messenger RNA therapeutics. So for instance, when we built RNAs that could respond to an oral small molecule drug, like a pill, we built RNAs that can be turned on. But when we built those, we only used small molecules that were already FDA approved. We didn't do any sort of, , we'll just pull whatever is off the shelf, that's the easiest to use. But we really started with, , this small molecule is FDA approved so it is inherently more translatable than having to get an RNA and a small molecule pair, , approved. And so the entire viewpoint, I guess, was around translatability.

John Simboli  
When people say, Jake, what do you do for a living? How do you like to answer?

Jacob Becraft
I really see my role as evangelizer, in the purest form, I love to think of myself as a scientist. And, if I give a hardcore business-based introduction of myself, I always start with, I'm a classically trained scientist, I'm published in these journals, and I've done actual rigorous research, I have a Ph.D., all of that. But at the end of the day, where I think the role of someone who is shepherding technology forward, is to really evangelize it, to talk to people about why is messenger RNA important? Why is gene therapy important? What can the general public know about this? And what should pharmaceutical companies know about this? What should investors know about this? I mean, I think the role of a CEO is kind of an educator, I mean, even the greatest CEOs that we talk about, let's say the tech sector, Steve Jobs, he was a communicator, he would tell you exactly what you need, and why you need it. Elon Musk, as well, he's out there. He's saying, we're going to Mars, we're going to have electric cars, we need to do these things. And behind the scenes, they're also great designers. Elon is designing these spaceships and everything. He's an engineer, he's kind of everything at the same time, but his true role in order to make sure the company is funded in order to attract great people to work at the company. And in order to just create a brand and create an awareness of what he's doing as an evangelizer. So I think the role is really to field people's questions, especially now with in the wake of coronavirus, right, we're sitting with a lot of attention on mRNA vaccines now with Moderna being one of the leaders in the race to a vaccine. And so I think it's really important for all scientists, especially those who venture into any sort of a leadership role, to take their science and do their best to communicate it. That's a constant struggle. Anyone who talks about their job can talk about it in a very, heavily jargony sort of way. So you got to, , work your way forward to bring that to everyone else.

John Simboli  
So, an evangelist almost by definition is a communicator. And I remember a long time ago CEO telling me, , John, I'm a CEO, I'm a chief Education Officer, and you used that word, too. I thought that was interesting. So, in the process of educating, a lot of energy has to go into communicating. What's your way to do that? What do you do all day? Do you read stuff and then call people up? Do your whole day in meetings, now electronic meetings? 

Jacob Becraft  
I think the most interesting part of the job is that there is no typical day. I mean, I guess now, , over the past few months that's basically been spent in this chair staring at this computer in this corner of my room. But, the substance of the meetings are completely different. , I start this morning on a call with someone in Europe, talking about expansion opportunities over there and talking about what we're trying to do. What we would be trying to do in Europe, I'll talk to you and, maybe, a media outlet and an investor during the afternoon and then in the evening time maybe with someone out west that's works at a pharmaceutical company, and I'm talking about how messenger RNA can fix or revolutionize some of the drugs that they're developing.

Jacob Becraft  
 It's hard, though. It's really just communicating and attempting, I should say, attempting, because it's never a done job. But attempting to understand your audience. Even just being a co-founder of a startup, that has to do with management and leadership. And so that's communicating, that's also just a communication, a tactic that is, how do you communicate to your employees? How do you communicate to your potential employees? , how do you recruit people? And it's all understanding your audience and understanding what is the most important thing to convey to this audience. And so, to the media, I think it's how important and revolutionary messenger RNAs will be for human health in the future. How they can help us eliminate pandemics, how they can help us eliminate cancers, and how they can move into new, rare and genetic diseases that absolutely devastate some people's lives, 

Jacob Becraft  
To scientists and to potential employees, I think, ones at my company, it's really important to gauge their interest and engagement with what they're doing and continue to align them with our overarching value stream. They're doing one experiment, but I want them to be able to see, this one experiment plugs into a greater whole, that is, patients being cured of awful diseases. And when people see that, and they understand that they feel as a part of working on that greater whole, then they're, I think, much happier and they do some of their best work. And I think our scientists at Strand are some of the greatest people I've ever worked with in my life, and I am so wildly happy to get to work with them every day. 

Jacob Becraft  
And when I talk to new people, it's really telling them, if you come to Strand, relative to these other opportunities you may have, this is the type of career and this is the type of work that you're going to do. This is the sort of agency you're going to have over your own science, this is how you're not going to be a cog in the machine. But really, you're going to be a builder of a grander machine. I think it's just all about thinking of who you're talking to. And I think the best way I've heard it described is empathetic communication. Empathy as a way to understand not just how is someone feeling about something, but empathy helps you say, , if I was getting this message right now, what are the most important things that I would want to understand?

John Simboli  
Can you remember when you were eight or nine and 10? what it was you thought you would be when you became a grown-up and had a job?

Jacob Becraft
Oh, yeah. So the first job that I ever wanted, was a paleontologist. That was my goal. I think when I was starting third grade, my grandmother actually took me to see—I grew up in Illinois, I grew up in central Illinois, this small little farm community in central Illinois–But we were about three hours south of Chicago. And so on the first day of, I think third grade, I got to skip the first day and actually go with my grandmother to go see the Sue exhibit. Sue was this giant, the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton ever discovered, and the Field Museum in Chicago got it, and it was on exhibit and it was so giant. And she took me up there to see that and see all of the dinosaurs and that was my thing. Her and my mom bought science kit after science kit of unearthing bones and learning about biology. And that was my thing. For four years, I was obsessed with that idea. 

Jacob Becraft  
Later on, I became obsessed with space. And I pivoted into wanting to be an astronaut. And I just thought that exploration was kind of where humans should go. But by the time I got to high school, it was all about the interest in biotech. I didn't know exactly what it was. But I thought the idea of designing drugs, designing therapies that impact people's lives and impact their health is just one of the most amazing things you can do to actually directly use science to innovate in people's lives. And I think all of it kind of ties together in that paleontology is just a study in a type of biology but with exploration mixed in and being an astronaut is really just about exploration, it's about the unknown. And I think the way that we do science nowadays is by harnessing the genetic code, it's really an exploration. At every turn, we are both discovering something about science, and then using that to have an impact on people. And I think that's probably the most beautiful thing about, modern biotechnology and science in general,

John Simboli  
Do you feel you have a management style? Do you find something that works for you, that's just natural to you?

Jacob Becraft
The types of things that I really try to focus on are science-first leadership. We run a science company. So if you come to the table with new ideas of things you want to do, that should be backed up by science. Reason may not prevail in a number of areas of the world right now. But, inside our company meetings, reason, hopefully, prevails more often than it doesn't. , I think that setting up a structure of a company is very important to think about what are the aspects that are important to you, right, and then not only just dictating them in this is our company philosophy or these are our principles, that I mean, that's very nice. And it's nice to hang it on a wall. And it's nice to talk about it with whoever. But really, whenever you make principles, you then have to figure out how you're going to actually measure yourself against those principles, right? 

Jacob Becraft  
If I say I'm going to run a marathon, I'd better be running at least a couple of times a week and measuring the way that I'm getting better. I think Ben Horowitz kind of said it the best in his recent book, kind of on culture design of a company, which is really, what you do is who you are. And then inside that, that's the name of the book, and then inside the book, what he gets to is whatever you measure is what you'll optimize for. So if you measure timelines, and fitting the timelines, you will optimize for how fast people get work done. Now, how will that impact quality? Well, that depends on how you manage quality. If time is your most important attribute, then that's what you'll get. So I try to spend a lot of time thinking about, a lot of time, thinking about what are the most important aspects of what we're doing? And then how can we measure them to set ourselves up for success? I don't know if that's a style. I don't know if I'm just copying whatever Ben said in his book. But, at the end of the day, that's kind of how I like to imagine things. It's a quantitative way, I guess, to kind of view life which is, maybe, not surprising for scientist  CEOs.

John Simboli  
When people say, who is or what is Strand Therapeutics, how do you like to answer?

Jacob Becraft  
Strand Therapeutics is focused on fixing underlying problems that currently have no other addressable manner. So you can come at it with a scientific answer and say that Strand Therapeutics is a messenger RNA therapeutics company, or Strand Therapeutics is a gene therapy company, or Strand Therapeutics is a synthetic biology company. But at the end of the day, it's a company that's focused on finding, diseases that have unmet need. Diseases where people don't have other options, designing therapies that we think we can fix the underlying issues, or at least provide long term increase in quality of life. And then designing solutions to those problems, I think it's really about building drugs that will impact a patient's life. And ideally, one of the reasons that I'm in messenger RNA therapeutics is that I think it also offers the best economics for patients. I think if you look across the different ways that you can fix underlying genetic disorders, through viral gene therapies, through engineered cell therapies, through CRISPR therapies, messenger RNA is by far and away going to be the most affordable when all costs are considered.

John Simboli  
If that speaks to the what is; if I were to say who is in a sense of personality, what is the personality of Strand Therapeutics?

Jacob Becraft 
As a company, if it was represented both by I think its personality and the people that work at it, it's a young hungry scientist that sometimes errs more on the academic side than the business side. With gene therapy, part of the issue can be that you're boiling the ocean. You have so many options of what you can go after every every non-infectious disease is essentially a genetic disorder at its core. And so, what you have is a number of hungry, interested, passionate scientists constantly running through ideas of, what if we innovated this way? What if we built a system that did x? And I love that because, maybe, part of the management style of both myself and my co-founder has to be to eventually take everyone's, , very divergent thinking and converge on what we're going to do. But, that academic thinking leads us to some of our greatest breakthroughs and some of the new directions we're able to go into. 

Jacob Becraft  
We have people come join us from other biotech companies, large established biotech companies with, very rigorous, well–here's the org chart and this is how we were built from 10 people to 100, we're ready to scale, like, immediately with a very, you report to these people. And they come into Strand and they say this is a much more diverse scientific environment that almost seems like an academic group, to a certain extent, in its creativity, while at the same time being focused very much on how to deploy those therapies as a business into the world. And that's exactly what I think biotech means more. It's difficult because it's very expensive, but it's very expensive to develop drugs. And so people, once they start throwing money down one hallway, they want to continue pushing everything down, , wherever the chips are already laid down. But I just think that the hungry, academic intrigue, being infused into an organization that also understands how to translate those drugs, that ends in just a much "funner," to use a non-word, a much "funner" work environment.

John Simboli  
When you're in a presentation, and you begin to describe the company, as you've been doing with me here today, and someone comes up to you afterward and says, thanks, Jake, I got it now. I'm interested in talking more, we'll set up a call. There's going to be other people who will come up and say, Thanks, Jake, I now understand it's x. And you think, oh, no, I just got done telling you it was y. And you tell me it's x. So what do they miss here? What are the misperceptions? How do you try to get them to see it the way you're seeing it?

Jacob Becraft  
So I try to take that latter situation where someone is not hearing my message, and I try to do my best to reflect that back on myself and try to figure out, Okay, why was this message not heard? And maybe there is an aspect that falls on —sometimes people can have preconceived notions, they've already seen a company that does, , they latched on to some part of what you were saying, because of their, something they had already seen earlier that day, or earlier that year. And now they're trying to compare you and bin you against them. 

Jacob Becraft  
I think one of my biggest learnings of starting this company, trying to become a better communicator, has been that it isn't about trying to completely avoid being put into a box. When I first started, it was we're not in that box, we're outside the box, we're on the moon. And there's a want to be endlessly unique. But there's also a need of humans to hear messages that they can then sub-dictate into categories. And so you have the opportunity to either put yourself in a self-defined box, that you're going to say, okay, we are most like x, and now you can evaluate us here. Or you can let the listener do that, and they're going to mess it up, they're going to put you in a box that you don't like. 

Jacob Becraft  
I think what often happens is we're the culmination of two spaces, right? We're in the synthetic biology side of things, and we are on the messenger RNA therapeutic side. And so depending on the exposure of, let's just take an investor for an example. A west coast investor is probably going to latch on more to the synthetic biology side. They've seen more, syn-bio is the computing of genetics and so they're going to say synthetic biology. So they're going to start comparing us to major synthetic biology companies like Ginkgo, for example, which is a fantastic synthetic biology company. And Jason and Reshma and the rest of them have done an amazing job of building that company and are true pioneers in synthetic biology. But they are very, very different than what we do. In fact, they engineer organisms, that's their thing. We're an organism company. 

Jacob Becraft  
But then, if, let's say, let's call it the east coast side, who are saying we are mRNA meets synthetic biology, then that investor is going to say, okay, Moderna. Now tell me how you're different than Moderna. And you're different than Translate, because they're going to latch on to the mRNA side because that's the part that they've been told is the innovation wing. And I think what's important is to figure out both who you're talking to, and how they're inherently going to box you in, and then think about how you can create maybe a new section of that box or a new box that's adjacent, that kind of says, well, it's like this, but it isn't. And that part that it isn't, is actually incredibly important. And so it's not saying that this is a bike, but with a bell, it's, this is a bike, but with a motor. And that motor is of course, incredibly important if you're trying to optimize for speed of the bike,

John Simboli  
Is the motor the mRNA-encoded logic circuits?

Jacob Becraft  
RNA encoded logic circuits is a piece of what is synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is, let's say, programmable messenger RNA. RNA encoded logic circuits are the fanciest part of RNA synthetic biology. But it's also engineering the sequence of the messenger RNA so that they express well. The problem is that we look at something like messenger RNAs in the body, right, and we say, like, Oh, all of these different messenger RNAs work. So really, the most important thing is that they're RNA. But what we don't take into account is the fact that every single messenger RNA transcript that we see has actually been optimized by evolution to have exactly the sequence that it has. And so when mRNA first emerged as a field, very naively, everyone kind of just said, well, we'll just dump in this RNA with whatever sequence we want. And since it's RNA, it will act as RNA, and it will be optimized because it is on it. And that's just simply not true. 

Jacob Becraft  
We are sitting at a precipice when you think about biological engineering or bioengineering, we're sitting at a precipice of engineering debt, basically. It's as if an alien civilization dropped a highly complex quantum computer in the middle of Central Park in Manhattan. And all of our computer scientists had to show up and figure out how to write software on the computer, but they have no idea. So they're also discovering how the computer works. And every time they write a piece of software, they're then trying to figure out, okay, this is actually how the computer works. Because there's all this engineering debt of getting given something that's already been built, Right now, when we build software, we build it on top of computers. And we already built those computers. So we understand how the thing is made from the bottom up. With biological engineering, there is all of this engineering debt that evolution has handed us. There are millions and millions and billions of years of optimization that's gone on to make the biological machine. And we have to both discover how that machine works, and then also augment it in parallel. And so we're constantly learning. 

Jacob Becraft  
And so synthetic biology is what I think is the next step. It's a group of biological engineers respecting the complexity that is the biological machine, and then building tools that are more suited to actually innovate on the biological machine, rather than simply, oh, we just need to add this one gene, and then we'll fix it all. Because it doesn't work like that. Nutrition doesn't work like that either. , you can't just eat kale and be healthy, right? It's an all-encompassing multifactorial system that you have to optimize for. Your body's health is just like that.

John Simboli  
Jake, what's new at Strand Therapeutics?

John Simboli  
What's new is that as we're expanding into a larger organization, and as the world is starting to collectively pick up on the importance of messenger RNA therapeutics, we're beginning to think about, what are other areas that we can innovate on in the field of messenger RNA. Side note, John, I don't know when this will come out, but it is possible that I will have an article out by the time it does. But back to what I was saying, there are aspects of messenger RNA that also haven't been tapped in. So let me put it to you like this: within messenger RNA. so the first thing we did was say, can we use messenger RNAs? And then, Moderna and BioNtech, CureVac, Translate all of them, I think they've proven at least an initial piece that says, Yes, we can use them as a therapeutic, at least right now. And then Strand came along to say, okay, that's great. We can use RNA. Now, how should we use it? How, how do we build RNAs that are, , broadly accessible to the population. And so we started engineering the sequence and doing all sorts of new programmable natures into those RNAs. 

Jacob Becraft  
But I think in my mind, there is more innovation to be had on the mRNA. side. So for instance, how are people making messenger RNAs? That's something that people don't really understand. And now it's coming to the forefront as the vaccine work starts to pick up, we start to think of how do we go from 10,000 doses to 100 million doses of vaccine? And it's starting to highlight inefficiencies in our supply chain. Highlight inefficiencies in the fundamental nature of how we look at the manufacturing of messenger RNAs. And so I think, without revealing too much of what we're doing at Strand, we've always been a highly versatile company, we bring in technology, west coast investors to come sit at the table, at the boardroom table with us to keep us constantly guessing. Because I think biotech is always saying, Well, how do I make a better RNA? How do I make a better RNA? And we don't get to, nearly as often, say, how do I innovate on the actual making of the RNA? 

Jacob Becraft  
How do I bring lessons in automation to actually fundamentally change how we produce these molecules? And so I think what we're looking at Strand now is not limiting ourselves to simply biotech. , I think if you look at Ginkgo, right, again, bringing it back to the fantastic job, the folks at Ginkgo have done, they're not just great at engineering organisms, they're great at the supply chain and the logistics of engineering organisms. You go to their facility in the seaport here in Boston, and you'll see modular labs filled with automation, and how they move things around. And I think that's because you took a group of young, hungry, innovative founders without any preconceived notions of what a biotech company looked like. And they come in and they say, why do we do it like x? Why don't we do it like y? I think y would be more efficient. And as an early new company, you can also do y a lot easier. You don't have to retrofit anything, you simply say, it will now be y. And as long as I can get the money to build it this way, I will build it this way.

John Simboli
While you're pursuing these ideas and trying to understand these many puzzles that you're working on simultaneously, do you find time at this point to think back to why you got into this? In other words, yeah, I'd really like to help some people. In fact, I could help some people in a significant way. Or I could help a lot of people in a significant way. Or does that come later?

Jacob Becraft  
There's always a place where you'll be able to help people who are before you. We are at an early stage in our process. But we are not at the first step of our process. Right? There was a three-year process to get from the moment of my co-founder and I going, why doesn't this exist? I think we have to start it in order for it to exist, to now. And there's been a number of challenges to get to that. And so, there are a plethora of others that are in that same exact step. I think, while getting a Ph.D. is a fantastic affair, I don't know if most current Ph.D. students would call it that. But it is an amazing chance to truly become an expert in a field and devote yourself to a piece of science. You do lose out on a number of years of learning the different aspects of the biotech industry or the biopharmaceutical industry or just biology as it is adapted into a startup in general. 

Jacob Becraft  
What I'm really passionate about is finding ways tools, metrics, and just mentorship in general that can lead to more scientists, especially younger scientists across any sort of background, but people who have revolutionary ideas and helping them find the ways to bring those forward as companies. Because I truly believe that the most effective people to run companies or at least run the vision for bringing new technologies forward are the people who had the initial vision to create the technology in the first place. And almost every revolutionary company that has been started over the past 30 or 40 years, you see the exact thing of the founders are the technical people who had the vision, who kept pushing, who didn't sell when it was easy, who didn't reconfigure the company, who said, this is what this technology can do. This isn't a financial play. This isn't just what I'm doing in 2020. This is what I have been doing and will continue to do. 

Jacob Becraft  
I draw a lot of lines to the tech industry. , Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos at Amazon, of people who saw long term visions, right. Amazon wasn't just an e-commerce company, they are the e-commerce company because Jeff saw that vision. And I draw a lot of lines to the tech community and I think it gets pushback from people who say, well, biotech is a tech, and whatever. But, I point them right to Genentech, Biogen, and Regeneron. , right there, especially Regeneron is a great example, because you have Les and George start the company, and push it into a direction. And they're met with an innumerable amount of struggles. I mean, throughout the 90s, they just continued to not get traction on building drugs, but they had this technology, they had these mouse models that could build antibodies that were so different than everyone else. And they eventually, instead of replacing themselves as leadership, they eventually brought in an executive chairman from Merck, who was able to then sit and go, alright, guys, you're visionary. And you understand what needs to be built here. But this is how we make this into a viable company. And now they're one of the most successful companies in the entire world, and definitely in biotech. And I think, , George is maybe the first billionaire simply from compensation alone. And in biopharma in general. Not that billionaire status should be a marker of success. But, you look at that and when I think of Regeneron, if I think about it, that technology had been packaged with someone who was simply a CEO this year, or this was their next CEO gig or their next CSO gig, I just can't see someone struggling a decade, a united leadership vision front, struggling through the entire 90s to build this technology into a company unless they truly had ownership and belief in the revolutionary potential of it. And if that had led to it being sold off and shelved and not fully utilized, that another bio company, a biopharmaceutical company that bought them up, then the entire world would have lost. 

Jacob Becraft  
And so we have to find ways to help people make the first step, but also it would be great if they don't struggle for an entire decade too. And we can build that leadership and the connections and the ecosystem to make young founders and technical experts capable of running companies like this.

John Simboli  
Thanks for making time to speak with me today, Jake.

John Simboli  
Thank you, John. I appreciate it. Anytime.

John Simboli 
Jake Becraft is an accomplished scientist. But as the leader of a company working with complex technologies, he knows his job also includes educating his audience about his vision for the company—what another CEO described to me as being Chief Education Officer. 

John Simboli  
From Jake's viewpoint, it's human nature for people to try to "locate" a company, to place them into a category that feels familiar. As Jake says, you have the opportunity to either put yourself in a self-defined box, or you can let the listener do that. Jake says it's important to figure out both who you're talking to, and how they're going to box you in. And then think about how you can create a new section of that box or a new box that's adjacent. Jake describes this process of making a distinction with a difference as, "It's not saying that this is a bike with a bell. It's this is a bike. But with a motor." 

John Simboli  
Jake also sees his role as shepherding a new technology. As I think about the biopharma founders and CEOs I've known, Jake's image of biopharma leader as shepherd rings true—leading the group in the right direction and keeping watch. This seems connected to Jake's image of himself as a high school student who had just discovered the field of biotech. And he thought, "The idea of designing therapies to impact people's health is one of the most amazing things you can do."

John Simboli  
 I'm John Simboli. You're listening to BioBoss.