Home' Technology Review : September October 2007 Contents 48 TR 5
TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
David Berry is sitting in a midtown Manhattan co ee
shop, taking a break from a carbon-trading confer-
ence across the street, when a news report on the
wall-mounted television catches his eye. The CNN dispatch
describes how scientists have shown, in animal experiments,
that Viagra might be used to alleviate symptoms of jet lag.
"It s interesting," Berry says, chuckling, as his eyes wan-
der back to the screen. "We were talking about a year ago
of using Viagra to treat jet lag." One side e ect of Viagra
widely reported in the medical literature has been the per-
ception of blue light, he continues, and blue light has also
been shown to reset circadian clocks in humans. "I like
when I see these things actually come tr ue," he says.
It s one thought that never went beyond a blue-sky con-
versation among his venture capital colleagues. But it re ects
how easily ideas come to Berry, a Harvard-trained MD who
earned his PhD through the Biological Engineering Division
at MIT and for the past two years has been a principal in the
venture capital r m Flagship Ventures in Cambridge, MA.
Since receiving his bachelor s degree from MIT in 2000,
Berry has helped develop a way to treat stroke, thought up
a new approach to cancer therapy, and, most recently, cre-
ated a system to genetically engineer microbes to produce
biofuels. He has 21 patent applications pending, and his
intellectual curiosity touches on therapeutic medicine, diag-
nostic devices, and now, most notably, alternative energy
technologies. His innovations in energy form the concep-
tual basis of LS9, a California-based renewable-petroleum
company that has received $5 million in venture funding
from Flagship and Khosla Ventures in California (see "Bet-
ter Biofuels," July/August 2007).
Berry points out that a number of the pioneering bio-
tech companies were thinking about energy and biofuels,
speci cally ethanol, in the 1970s. "What s interesting," he
says, "is that, as a eld, we re making a full circle and going
back to the things biotechs thought about way back then.
But now we re bringing new technological tools to make
the same problems more tractable."
INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR
David Berry, 29
Renewable petroleum from microbes
By Stephen S. Hall
On the rst working day of each week, Flagship Ventures
holds a group meeting to review investments and discuss
new ideas. One day this May, David Berry was the youngest,
and probably the most earnest, of about a dozen VCs gath-
ered in Flagship s seventh- oor conference room, with its
grand view of sailboats plying the Charles River. The meet-
ing ran a little long, and Ber ry apologized when he nally
emerged. "We were talking about a potential new idea in
drug delivery," he explained. Although the details of that
technology remained discreetly fuzzy, it was very clear that
these are heady, palpably exciting conversations for him.
"You re discussing some of the hottest, most compelling
new technologies around," he says. "I m having a blast."
Berry took a seat at that conference table with no formal
training in nance but a track record in technology. In gradu-
ate school, he began tinkering with a molecule that could
pass through the blood-brain barrier and showed promise
as a stroke treatment. The protein, an engineered version
of broblast growth factor 2, produced functional improve-
ment in a test animal modeling symptoms of stroke, and it
brought out in Berry another quality conducive to innovation:
restlessness. Berry realized that studying the protein could
lead to a PhD far more quickly than most projects, and he
seized the occasion. He got his PhD in 2005 ( nishing his
MD a year later), and the biotech company ViaCell brie y
attempted to develop the molecule as a dr ug.
Berry also experimented with ways to reversibly attach
polymers to sugar molecules and came up with a way to
kill cancer cells by binding polymers to heparin, the well-
known blood thinner. Berry s polymer packaging makes
cancer cells absorb heparin more quickly; once inside the
cells, the heparin disrupts biochemical pathways, ulti-
mately leading to cell death. The technology garnered the
attention of Momenta Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company
in Cambridge, MA; Berry garnered another publication,
and another patent application.
"What makes David unusual is that there s nothing that s
going to stop him," says Robert Langer, a chemical engi-
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