STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 01/23/2009

ARTICLE | A Biotech Apprenticeship

Story Russ Camp, Cliff Mathisen '07 and Don Gonzales '95

One reality for biotech entrepreneurs is raising capital, and the most difficult round of financing is often the first. A recent success story has an unusual profile--the entrepreneur pitching a business plan to a venture capitalist was a Gordon undergrad, Harold "Cliff" Mathisen '07. Mathisen's presentation was the culmination of a semester's collaboration with Gordon alumnus Don Gonzales, M.D. '95. Gonzales has a long track record of cutting-edge medical research, beginning in his own undergraduate years as a biology major at Gordon.

"Don's driving passion for biology and scientific research inspired both me and his peers," says Russell Camp. "His ability to design and implement experimental protocols was remarkable." After graduating from Gordon, Gonzales received the Engel Fellowship from the American Cancer Society and researched the genetics of muscle development in the Cardiovascular Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital. At Cornell University's medical school, Gonzales worked in the labs of Memorial Sloan Kettering determining the genetic sequence of the protein that causes Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome. He also worked with the Strang Cancer Institute at Rockefeller University and Cornell to determine the carcinogenic potential of estrogen metabolites.

After Cornell, during his residency in otolaryngology/head and neck surgery at Tulane University, he studied the role of IGF (insulin-like growth factor) in wound healing and cancer metastasis. During his senior year of residency he published his first patent and formed a company around a device for nasal surgery. Since then he has become the CEO and president of Xorbent Technologies, Xorbent Developments, Xorbent, LLC, and, most recently, the chief medical officer of ENTrigue Surgical Inc., a venture-backed company he founded in 2007. Until recently he practiced otolaryngology in Gloucester and Beverly with a focus on endoscopic sinus surgery and sleep apnea.

Gonzales wanted to introduce Gordon science majors to the realities of biotech entrepreneurship. This past academic year the Biology Department sponsored a pilot project in which biology major Cliff Mathisen worked with Gonzales and Camp in the development of a business plan for one of Gonzales' most recent patents on a surgical device to treat sinusitis.

"Dr. Gonzales had me do the detective work in figuring out what the major problems were with sinus surgery," Mathisen says. "He would point me in the right direction, but then it was my responsibility to conduct my own research and draw conclusions from what I had learned. I gained significant knowledge of sinusitis and the problems that needed to be addressed in treating patients. I also came to appreciate the potential impact the new device patented by Dr. Gonzales will bring to the treatment of sinusitis patients."
An important step in Mathisen's work was to formulate a business plan. "Calculating a sound approximation of funding to be requested from a venture capital firm is critical to the success of the product," Mathisen says, "but also a delicate balancing act. Requesting too little presents the real risk of bankruptcy before reaching the next stage of funding. Requesting too much would give the venture capitalists a higher market share in Dr. Gonzales' product once he reaches the next stage of funding."

Mathisen defended his business plan in a PowerPoint presentation in the presence of venture capitalist Michael Magliochetti, Ph.D., from Oxford Biosciences. "Cliff did a great job--the venture capitalist really drilled him and Cliff stood the test," says Camp, who hopes this collaboration will be a prototype for entrepreneurial research opportunities for Gordon science students.

Mathisen adds, "This experience with the business aspect of biotechnology is something I would not have received in strictly biology-based study. During every callback and interview I've had with potential employers, the first thing they want to hear more about is my research with Dr. Gonzales. This experience has helped me land a job at FEI, a nanotechnology company in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Dr. Camp and Dr. Gonzales have started something at Gordon that will give future students in this type of research a powerful understanding of how the business behind biotechnology works." 

Russell Camp, Cliff Mathisen '07 and Don Gonzales '95 wrote this article together in a round-robin series of emails. Mathisen is from Madison, New Jersey. Camp, who was instrumental in implementing this pilot for a mentoring program in biotechnology, recently retired after teaching biology at Gordon for 37 years. Gonzales lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he is chief medical officer for his new company, ENTrigue Surgical Inc.