By Jess Dankenbring, '17
While biology and music may not be a natural pairing for a double major, that never mattered to David Raiser ’06. “I was always very much supported in my diverse interests, which certainly continues through to today and has given me the perhaps bold notion that I can do everything at once,” he says.
These days, doing everything at once includes his start-up biotech company, Aldatu Biosciences, which developed a method for testing drug resistance genotyping, which can better match HIV patients with effective medication. The technology was developed by Aldatu co-founder Iain MacLeod whom Raiser met at Harvard while pursuing his Ph.D.
“We found each other at the right time where he had an idea and wasn’t sure exactly what to do with it, and I was very interested in life science business and entrepreneurship but didn’t really have any ideas of my own or technologies that I had invented necessarily that I could take forward into a business myself,” Raiser says.
The technology, called PANDAA, overcomes some of the technical challenges that have prevented low-cost diagnostics for HIV drug resistance in the past. It allows the testing to be done more sensitively and more affordably.
“Right now there are patients in sub-Saharan Africa who become infected with a strain or a particular type of HIV that is already resistant to the standard medications that they will be prescribed upon being diagnosed,” Raiser says. “So these patients who are doing everything that they can to take care of their own health are, in the absence of a test like this, prescribed ineffective drugs blindly because clinicians don’t have the drug resistance information.”
Raiser credits his time at Richmond as helping him develop some of the skills he thinks have helped Aldatu succeed. Outside of the classroom, he directed the Octaves, Richmond’s all-male a cappella group, for three years. “That gave me some very valuable leadership and people-management experience, which allowed me to, when I finally moved to Boston, start my own group,” Raiser says.
“Several years later, when I found myself exploring entrepreneurship and wanting to start my own company, I realized that I had already started something, and I had experience getting something up from the ground; having a plan and executing that plan; and managing people in the process. I think that experience definitely helped me have the confidence in my own abilities to start a company.”
Even though Aldatu is less than a year old and the company has not yet distributed the testing for use, it has made significant progress. In May, Aldatu won the grand prize at the Harvard Dean’s Health and Life Sciences Challenge and the company was awarded $40,000 to help further their effort to bring PANDAA technology to patients.
While the timeline for a life science company is a bit longer than other types of companies and they are still waiting to see direct results, Raiser knows that his company will have a positive impact.
“We’ve been able to show clearly that the technology works and that it has real application for this and other diseases,” Raiser says. “There are a lot of organizations across the world that are very interested and very committed to addressing HIV as a global epidemic, and we’ve been engaging with many, if not all, of the really big players there — those that are really involved on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve gotten a great deal of enthusiasm from those organizations, so we have a lot of confidence that a successfully commercialized product will have a very substantial impact.”
Image credit: Evgenia Eliseeva, Eve Photography