Something I would change about myself is: To live in the moment more My dream dinner guest would be: Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation
Impacting patients at the intersection of science and business
For David Raiser, realizing he didn't want to be a doctor proved a pivotal moment in his life. Growing up in the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and with a natural gift for science, medicine seemed like the obvious career path. "I always found the ultimate purpose of helping people a very motivational thing for me, but while I was applying for medical school, the whole thing suddenly felt forced. I loved science and I wanted to help people, but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend all my time in hospitals."
Determined to push forward with his education, David homed in on biomedical science, the research pursuit of the molecular underpinnings of human disease. "That really spoke to me at the time, and it seemed like the right solution to the identity crisis I was having in terms of wanting to help people but also wanting to pursue innovation at the leading edge of science."
EMBRACING A NEW PATH. While attending Harvard for his PhD, David still felt far from the patient impact he strived to make. He took a year of academic leave to explore his options, joining a biotech startup in San Francisco. "I had a lot of self-doubt at the time, but it was transformative for me to learn how to think about my translatable skills and what I had to offer other roles outside of the specific technical training that I had been focused on in my educational career." It was during this formative year that he fully appreciated the role of commercialization in bringing impactful science to patients, and his direction crystallized.
David returned to Harvard to complete his PhD and took the opportunity to develop his business training, which included formal coursework, a tech transfer fellowship, and life science consulting engagements. "Broadly, I was preparing myself to transition into that intersection of science and business without knowing exactly where I was going to end up." While interviewing for various consulting roles, he met Iain MacLeod, who would become the co-founder of his first entrepreneurial venture.
The origins of their company, Aldatu Biosciences, began in 2013 and have become Harvard Innovation Lab lore. "It might sound cliché, but while we were waiting for a bus, Iain took out a piece of paper and scratched out the concept of the technology he had been working on. Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand it at first, but I soon appreciated there was something exciting there to explore. I wanted to build something and he wanted to bring his idea to patients. It was the right person, with the right idea, at the right time - and thus, Aldatu was born."
ADAPTING TO GLOBAL DEMAND. The goal of Aldatu (meaning: to become something different) is to facilitate the world's collective response to global health challenges by ensuring everyone has access to affordable and accurate infectious disease diagnostics. David and Iain spent several years focused on drug-resistant HIV testing, when a more immediate health emergency emerged in 2020: COVID. "I will always remember it as one of the most intense times of my entire life. In a matter of 18 days, we went from a concept for a test to, for a few weeks at least, enabling the largest volume of COVID testing in New England. It was the experience of a lifetime, the kind of real impact every founder dreams of having."
David has since left Aldatu and joined another biotech venture, STRM.BIO, which is working to democratize gene therapy by enabling simpler, safer delivery. Leaving Aldatu was, he says, one of the hardest decisions of his life. "I struggled a lot in terms of, was I admitting some sort of failure by stepping away? But I left the company on a very positive trajectory and in Iain’s very capable hands, and I’m grateful to him and many others in my life who supported me in taking the next leap in my entrepreneurial journey.”
“I think there are probably many things that I would do differently, but I'm also a firm believer in the notion that the decisions and mistakes I've made have led me to where I'm supposed to be today. My Aldatu adventure made me an entrepreneur.”