Kevin Chow

Your UBC Experience

I was planning to leave UBC after my bachelor's degree, but Dr. Davies asked me to join his laboratory as one of his first UBC grad students. He had just arrived from the Institut Pasteur in Paris and was setting up his new Wesbrook lab in the summer of 1992. It was a fateful decision to stay, as working with him for the next eight years stoked my interest in biotech entrepreneurship. During those years, he started TerraGen Discovery (acquired by Cubist Pharmaceuticals in 2000) and also invited numerous notable scientists from pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, Eli Lilly and Abbott (AbbVie) to visit the department and meet with the students. It was the beginning of my awakening (at arms length) to venture financing, corporate R&D, and to the possibilities of an exciting business career outside of a university lab, medical school, or law school. At the time it just seemed really "out of the box" to me, which I found very appealing. However, my most fond memories by far from UBC Micro are of simply hanging out with my fellow grad students. Long coffee breaks while gels were running, warm summer evenings down at Spanish Banks, helping friends move in (to be paid off with pizza and beer). Nights out on the town to bars that I'm sure don't even exist anymore. Performing with the band at the department holiday party (there is still an egg nog stain on my guitar amplifier to remind me). Taking off from the lab on a whim with my Davies lab buddy Jeff Rogers to drive to Regina, Saskatchewan for the weekend and party by the lake. Playing on the Microbiology softball team. I could go on.

Thesis Title

Characterization of a Vanillate Non-oxidative Decarboxylation Gene Cluster from Streptomyces sp.d7

Awards

  • Science Council of BC research scholarships (now Innovate BC)

Your Career Journey and Achievements

After completing my Ph.D. in late 1999 I was offered a position at a biotech consulting firm in the San Francisco Bay Area. This was my first work experience outside the lab but since I was already interested in entrepreneurship it was a great opportunity to learn about biopharmaceutical market research straight out of graduate school. Clients were the likes of Incyte Genomics, Genentech, Merck Serono, and others. Subsequently I worked in business development roles at Diversa (San Diego, CA, acquired by BASF), Corus Pharma (Seattle, WA), Gilead Sciences (Foster City, CA), Alder Biopharmaceuticals (Bothell, WA), and then three years ago founded my own biopharma company, Vitaeris, headquartered in downtown Vancouver in the Marine Building. I am definitely doing what I always dreamed about when I was back in graduate school - starting my own biotech company. However, the path to get here was not what I anticipated and took a lot of patience waiting for the right opportunity and mentors, while balancing the risk to my family to finally become a biotech entrepreneur. In my current job I enjoy being able to make cross-functional decisions and oversee all aspects of a drug development program, working alongside great people who know their functional areas extremely well. However, with this role comes great responsibility since we are conducting a Phase 3 study in hundreds of patients around the world. It's not something I could have done straight out of grad school. However, having gained a scientific education at UBC has allowed me to take on a business-oriented career in the biotech industry with the ability to evaluate data, better assess scientific risk, and communicate with peers in R&D.

Anything about yourself

My daughter is going off to college this fall, which probably made me reflect more on my own college experience and reconnect with the department. Although Vitaeris is based in Vancouver, I still live in the Seattle area and commute back and forth throughout the year.

Advice to current students

While at UBC, try to cherish your time with your colleagues, friends, supervisors, and staff members in the department. I can't believe how fast the past 20 years has gone by since I left UBC and although I definitely had bad days in the lab, surprisingly I have actually forgotten about them and now just remember the good times. So make sure you take the time to create good memories!

 

Grad Year:

2000
 

UBC Degree/Program:

  • B.Sc/Microbiology&Immunology

  • M.Sc/Microbiology&Immunology

  • Ph.D./Microbiology&Immunology

 

UBC Supervisor:

Ph.D. & M.Sc. supervisor: Dr. Julian Davies

 

Other Education:

  • University of British Columbia, 1992, B.Sc./Microbiology
  • University of British Columbia, 1996, M.Sc./Microbiology
 

Hometown:

Vancouver and Richmond, British Columbia
 

Job Title & Employer:

Co-founder, President and CEO/Vitaeris
 

Current Location:

Seattle, Washington, USA