Matt Donne joined the Vial team in July 2022. To learn more about opportunities at Vial, visit our careers page and follow us on LinkedIn.
Tell us about your background.
My interest in science and medicine began at a young age when my younger brother was diagnosed with Tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary valve atresia and major aortopulmonary collateral arteries (TOF/PA/MAPCAS), which is the most severe of the TOF cases. This life-changing event for my family led me down a path to pursue all things science and medicine related. I was fortunate to attend a few great schools for my bachelor’s (Wesleyan), Masters (SFSU), and doctoral (UCSF) degrees. These institutions allowed me to develop a passion for regenerative medicine; to understand how we can coax the innate regenerative potential of our bodies and also utilize this knowledge to develop cell-based therapies to treat disease. My interest in biotech/pharma entrepreneurship truly began to blossom during my PhD at UCSF, where I was able to support VCs in Seed/Series-A stage investments and learn from a variety of Founders. Post-graduation, I was fortunate to land a job immediately in industry where I have been able to see first hand companies scale from pre-Seed through Series B. Most recently, I did a “tour of duty” as Chief of Staff and Head of Operations to a CEO at a machine-learning based, platform discovery company. My 4 years with the team at Spring taught me how tight integration of great engineers and biologists can expedite the drug discovery process.
In your past few roles, you’ve seen the challenges of drug development and discovery upfront, where do you see room for technology-enabled infrastructure to support startup biotechs?
My time at Spring was heavily impacted, like many other folks, by COVID. Our leadership team decided to use our tech-enabled discovery engine to identify possible COVID therapeutics. In under 2 months, we were able to run a screen, identify top hits, and decide which to bring into the clinic for a trial. This type of speed is totally unheard of, and only possible because of the power of Spring’s machine learning-based tech. We immediately ran into issues when the process of requesting RFPs from well-known clinical CROs began: cost, recruitment timelines, nimbleness, and commitment to a small startup were all lacking. We thankfully were able to identify a small CRO that truly felt like a partner to our team, but we then ran into more issues at the site-level with recruitment, data collection, and data analysis. There was not a single aspect of the trial that ran as proposed, and I believe a large majority of that was due to a lack of clear patient enrollment data, stress/exhaustion from the on-site nurses/doctors/CRAs who were managing the health and well-being of patients in addition to the plethora of clinical trial work, and the heavy data clean up that was needed due to the antiquated data-collection process. This ultimately resulted in major cost overruns for the project and an inability to reach our recruitment goals. The entire process from patient recruitment to data delivery could be vastly improved by leveraging technology.
What advice do you have for the founding teams of startup biotechs that are new to clinical development?
I think the number one lesson I learned while working with my CEO and teammates on our first clinical trial was the need to identify a true partner. Someone who was willing to take calls anytime of day to make sure our concerns were being heard and addressed. Although the trial did not run smoothly, for a variety of reasons, we knew we had someone to call at the CRO to hear us out and try to find solutions to our problems. An early-stage company will not find this with the large players as they put their efforts in deals worth tens of millions, with tens of millions more on the horizon. A small $1-2M deal just doesn’t move the needle. I would also suggest finding a CRO partner that is willing to sit down and help truly sort out what is and isn’t necessary for data collection and clinical endpoints. It’s easy to get sold the concept that more is better, but the reality is that just puts more money in the pockets of these large-CRO organizations.
What led you to join Vial?
I was fortunate to meet the co-founders of Vial through general biotech meet-ups here in San Francisco. As I learned more about their model of close-knit site integration and tech-first enable tooling, I knew they were onto something that I’d not heard of or experienced yet. In addition, they have a phenomenal group of advisors and investors that are committed to making a change in this space.
What are you most excited about over the next year at Vial?
First and foremost, learning from the team. They’ve brought on an incredibly talented group of clinical operators, engineers, marketers, business development specialists, and scientific/medical advisors. Selfishly, I am also excited for the opportunity to learn about the cutting-edge therapies being brought to the clinic from the variety of companies Vial will be working with. Lastly, I’m excited to continue to support early-stage companies achieve their goals through use of Vials platform. This, in turn, will help patients more broadly. I went down the path of science/medicine to help people like my younger brother. I believe Vial will be able to help positively impact more patients through tech-enabled efficiencies leading to faster/less-expensive clinical trials.