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 Michèle 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.