When Josh Mandel-Brehm, AB ’05, was at WashU, there were two main paths a biology major could take: “You go on to get a doctorate or become a doctor,” he says.
At that time, biotechnology as an industry and job generator was still in its infancy, but it has come a long way since then. And nearly two decades after graduation, Mandel-Brehm’s company is tasked with pushing the boundaries of this growing field even further.
Mandel-Brehm is the president and CEO of CAMP4, a Cambridge, Mass.-based company whose “mission is to be a pioneer in the field of regulatory RNAs,” Mandel-Brehm says. Under his leadership, the company recently completed its Series B financing (the third round of financing a company by investment), raising $100 million to continue its work of harnessing the power of RNA to restore a healthy gene expression.
It has been a long process of building relationships with investors, which, according to Mandel-Brehm, involves “taking the time to get to know them, hearing their feedback, answering their questions and sharing how we can create value with the money invested.
During this period, Mandel-Brehm learned a lot. “The best advice I got was ‘the minute you think you’ve figured this out, you’re in big trouble,'” Mandel-Brehm says. “That means: first, always stay humble, and second, know that this is a constant journey of learning. It’s deeply personal. We care about people as much as we care about the medicine we make. I don’t couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.
The $100 million (made possible by funds from Polaris Partners, 5AM Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, hedge funds and other investors) will now help CAMP4 achieve its vision: to develop new medicines for diseases that have not treatment. The first program will enter the clinic in 2023 and is a potential treatment for a rare genetic epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Next comes a fleet of new drugs for a range of metabolic and central nervous system diseases.
“It’s a very exciting time for us,” Mandel-Brehm said. “This is the first opportunity to test our area of biology in a clinical trial to help patients; it really is proof that our work is more than a science experiment.
Currently, the company is studying Dravet syndrome, a form of genetic epilepsy that affects both children and adults, and it will test its new drug to treat the disease. It’s an ambitious task, but lives up to the company’s name and mission.
“One of our founders is a great outdoor enthusiast. And I told him that I wanted to find a name that was ambitious in nature. I said maybe disease is like a mountain, and you try to climb it, get to the top,” Mandel-Brehm recalls. This gave rise to the name CAMP4: the last camp before a mountaineer’s ascent to the summit of Mount Everest. It’s also the name of a place in Yosemite where the world’s greatest climbers go to train and push their limits.
Likewise, “we are pushing the boundaries of biology to treat disease,” says Mandel-Brehm.
Although this is a Herculean effort, it is also an effort that can quickly make you humble. “The name signifies a humbling journey – venturing up Mount Everest is humbling, so the company name connects to that story,” says Nicole Hodgman, BSBA ’06, director of ideas and solutions for Liberty Mutual and Mandel-Brehm’s wife.
The two met when they were undergrads on what was also a humbling journey: Hodgman, a freshman, worked at the sports complex, and Mandel-Brehm, a sophomore, worked there- down while ‘trying to get his number. But she wasn’t interested,” he laughs. “Still, I convinced her to come to a party we were having, and then she started talking to me for a bit.”
Both now reside outside of Boston and are members of the Eliot Society. Additionally, Hodgman is an alumni recruiter, and Mandel-Brehm wants to create an annual panel with WashU biotech alumni who have built businesses and share his experience with WashU students who might be interested in joining. get into biotechnology.
“I remain closely connected as an alumni recruiter, and the main reason for this is that WashU has given us lifelong relationships that have had meaningful impacts on our lives,” Hodgman says.
“We’re both saying WashU did more for us than maybe we did for it, so we’re trying to pay back,” Mandel-Brehm says. “I’m very excited to create the next big biotech company – a place that students coming out of WashU are looking to, others are looking to CAMP4 and saying, ‘This is the most innovative of the moment”.