David Kelleher's Why I'm Doing This
My reason for launching 4G is very simple. We must accelerate the speed of discovery. We must do whatever we can to ensure that vital medicines get to those who need them as fast as we safely can.
So, why this particular imperative? Well, service to the greater good has always been what makes me tick. I grew up as the son of a career Army officer. As a family, we lived in Thailand in the mid-seventies as the Vietnam War was coming to an end and in West Germany from 1979 until 1990 in the height of the Cold War. I was fortunate enough to watch the Berlin Wall come down during my Senior year in high school – being at the Brandenburg Gate in December of 1989 remains an indescribable honor. Not surprisingly, growing up in and around the military compelled me to seek a career in the service. I went to college on an ROTC scholarship and during college my father was promoted to General. This only cemented my desire to serve.
So, in May 1994, I was commissioned as an Infantry Officer in the US Army. I then spent the next 12 months at Fort Benning training to lead men into hostile territory. After completing Ranger School in the summer of 1995, I left for my first duty station in Vicenza, Italy. This was a phenomenal duty station both professionally (as the spearhead unit of the Allied Command Europe Mobile Force) and personally (what a treat to be only 45 minutes from Venice). Within a few months, tensions were heating up in Bosnia, and our unit prepared to deploy. During those preparations, I woke up one Monday morning for daily physical training and one of my eyes was completely looking sideways. I put an eye-patch on and continued to prep for deployment. My commanding officer took me aside and sent me to the dispensary. I saw an optometrist, an internist and then a neurologist. The neurologist said, “Well, you either have a brain tumor or multiple sclerosis. Let’s go take a look.” After an MRI, spinal tap and a number of other tests, and transport back to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, MS was the verdict. I was 23, in the best shape of my life, ready to save the world and I had no idea what MS was. Quickly, I was medically retired and my military career was over before it started…
Thankfully, the first interferon treatments for relapsing/remitting MS had recently come out of trials. I immediately started on Beta-Seron. This meant a subcutaneous injection every other day and, for me, a ton of exacerbations in the first 6 months. Each arm and each leg was paralyzed for 4 weeks and then mostly-full function returned. I went blind in one eye for a similar 4-week period. There were lots of steroid treatments and encouragement to stick to the course of treatment. I stuck with it and, after 6 months or so, things stabilized, and I felt like I could get on with my life. So, I did. I got a job; I moved to the West Coast; I got married; started having kids and my life began again! Since then, I have been extremely fortunate. I’ve been on a different interferon treatment (Avonex) for the last 18 years, I helped build a successful business, and my wife and I have created a fabulous family with six amazing kids. I am absolutely one of the fortunate ones.
Since 2002, I have been active in the fight to end MS. It really is an awful disease. The exacerbations and the horrible effects of disease progression are the obvious reasons, but the truly vicious part of the disease is the waiting, the anticipation of the next exacerbation, the likelihood of significant disability. Everyone with the disease stares down that likelihood. While my disease has not yet progressed in a noticeable way to most, I know way too many people who were diagnosed when I was, or even later, who are dealing with irreversible physical and cognitive disability. They live very, very challenging lives. There are many smart, giving people all over the world who are fighting this disease. As a result, there are numerous, commercialized treatments for the relapsing/remitting form of the disease. These treatments are certainly helping, but have not come close to solving the puzzle. Unfortunately, there is very little hope for those with the progressive forms of the disease - no pervasive treatments, no effective regenerative therapies. Essentially, once your disease progresses, there is nothing.
So, why am I doing this? Well, every day, I have to stare down the likelihood of a future with no treatments for a disease that I will likely “progress” into. I then get to shift my gaze to my beautiful wife and our six kids (ages 15, 6, 5, 4, 2x6 months). Its very difficult to reconcile those two images – one with terrifying uncertainty and one with unbounded potential…
So, selfishly, I want to do whatever I can to speed the rate of discovery and commercialize critical medications as quickly as possible. I’m not planning to go back to school to get a PhD in Biochemistry to help solve the problem at the core. But, what I can do is find bottlenecks in the clinical trials process that are preventing us from going faster – and, for me, the current pace is not an option – we must, must, must go faster!!