American Gene Technologies® CEO and founder Jeff Galvin was awarded the Life Sciences Voice 2023 Top Industry Leaders Award. The annual award recognizes the most dynamic leaders in the life sciences industry, who are making the biggest impact in delivering transformation that is moving the industry forward. Life Sciences Voice lauds these winners as the industry's most creative minds working on important initiatives and delivering extraordinary results.
Life Sciences Voice describes this recognition as “the most prestigious leadership award in the life sciences industry,” one that affords the winner an opportunity to be part of the esteemed winner alumni group and digital community, along with in-person events and networking, as well as invitations to speaking opportunities with Life Sciences Voice events.
In response to being named a winner, Jeff said: “This is a wonderful honor, made possible thanks to the stellar collaboration and unwavering commitment of my talented colleagues and team members here at American Gene™. I am thrilled to receive this recognition for the work we have been doing using gene therapy to find cures for some of the world’s worst diseases.”
Life Sciences Voice was moved by Jeff’s remarkable creativity, passion, and commitment to improving the lives of millions. For those who don’t know Jeff’s background and what led him to found American Gene Technologies (AGT™), here is a brief summary of his journey.
What Inspired Jeff to Come Out of Retirement?
Having retired from the computer industry in 2002 after entrepreneurial successes at a series of Silicon Valley companies, Jeff found himself in his early forties on the beach across the street from his Hawaii vacation home feeling bored. He decided to look for a way to “dabble” in business again: maybe making angel investments, mentoring, or as a board member for an entrepreneurial company. In his search for interesting projects, he received a business plan in 2006 from a postdoc at NIH who introduced Jeff to Roscoe Brady, MD, Ph.D.
Dr. Brady, an accomplished drug developer and physician, was researching the potential of using viral vectors as a way to “repurpose” viruses from delivering “bad” genetic elements that cause disease, into delivery vehicles that could bring “good” genetic elements into the body that fight disease. Jeff, a seasoned technology entrepreneur, immediately saw the expansive possibilities of this approach.
Having been part of the computer software industry for nearly 30 years, Jeff saw many parallels between a human cell’s DNA “code” and a computer’s operating software. He recognized that the genetic sequences of “nucleotides” — symbolized by A, C, T, and G — seemed very similar to the 0’s and 1’s that control computers.
Viewing Dr. Brady’s work from a computer-software perspective, Jeff realized Dr. Brady had just revealed the potential of using viruses as “diskettes” that could deliver new “genetic software” into the DNA of cells to manipulate the drivers (genes) of everything in the human body.
That epiphany inspired Jeff to see DNA as the body’s operating system. When that “code” contains “mistakes,” such as mutations that lead to inherited disorders and other diseases, people suffer. But Jeff also realized that viruses could be used to repair or even improve a cell’s operating system.
Jeff saw Dr. Brady’s breakthrough as the beginning of a new technology revolution on a global scale. Jeff had a vision of gene therapy developing along a technology “curve” that would lead to cures for thousands of diseases, including cancer, and he foresaw this nearly 10 years before the biotech and pharma industries began to think about the power and possibilities of gene and cell therapy.
The opportunity was too exciting not to dive in with both feet. Jeff risked his retirement nest egg to fund and found American Gene Technologies in 2007. The mission: Create new gene therapy cures for some of the world’s worst diseases.
Why Did Jeff See Powerful Potential in Gene Therapy?
What especially struck Jeff about the power and potential of gene therapy was its ability to target cells with high specificity in order to make precise and predictable changes to them. The ability to narrowly target the drug to just the cells that need it would avoid the problem of most traditional medicines, which diffuse indiscriminately through the body and can cause unwelcome and even dangerous side effects. Gene therapy using viral vectors would allow the development of viral particles containing drug cargos to be steered to target cells or tissues (called “tropism”), where they would release their cargo with precision while avoiding non-target cells for which the treatment is not intended.
In addition, gene therapy “drugs” can contain “on/off switches” (called specific promoters), which can measure any protein or enzyme in the cell to determine whether the drug should even turn on in cells that are infected by the delivery virus. That capability enables researchers to “query” a cell to see if it is the right type, or even if it is expressing a cellular product that is indicative of the targeted disease and then only turn the drug on if it is. Drug developers can increase the therapeutic levels of drugs (strength) where they are needed, while greatly reducing or even eliminating the effect in healthy tissues that don’t need treatment.
American Gene’s investment in this revolutionary cure-oriented approach to medicine offers new hope for patients suffering from once-incurable conditions. Jeff foresees a day when cures will come down in cost, and curing a disease will actually be cheaper than treating it for life. That will help insurance companies by lowering their costs on each disease. U.S. government-funded research would also benefit, by enabling priorities to shift as cures become commercially feasible and widely available.
Society at large will ultimately be the biggest beneficiary. As the cost of gene therapy declines, more people around the globe will have access to this technology and benefit from affordable cures for terrible diseases. Gene therapy will transform healthcare for all of humankind, thanks to pioneers like Jeff and the team at American Gene Technologies.