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The Purpose-Driven Career

Wednesday, November 15, 2017 • Darryl L. Carter, MD

Entrepreneurship is a dream realized over and again for Dr. Darryl Carter

UMB venture advisor Darryl Carter, M.D., knows something about impeccable timing – and luck. In June of 2008, Dr. Carter and his co-founder Chris McClain successfully raised $25 million in Series A for their startup, Nora Therapeutics. This was right before the epic market crash in the fall of 2008. “We were the last deal of that magnitude back then,” recalls Dr. Carter.

He and Mr. McClain worked diligently for a year with their lead investor, Biomark Capital, to win the firm’s financial commitment for Nora’s bone marrow therapy. The product candidate was developed to help women with unexplained recurrent pregnancy loss.  At the same time, Dr. Carter worked closely with the FDA to obtain orphan drug designation and to delineate the clinical development program with formal written guidance. “We were told by the VCs that we brought something to them on a silver platter,” Dr. Carter muses. The company was poised for an initial public offering (IPO) when its Phase 2 clinical trial data suddenly turned against the founders. The company wound down in late 2015.

His remarkable journey as a first-time entrepreneur was no mid-career distraction. He had been dreaming of starting his own company since he was a med student at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Dr. Carter religiously attended networking events where VCs, founders and patent experts mingled. Years later, as a faculty member and practicing physician at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Hospital, he landed upon an idea to repurpose a biologic. He left the world of academia to found Nora, and never looked back.

Dr. Carter’s experience leading a startup to a potential IPO has been instrumental at UM Ventures and UMB where he works with faculty and students on new ideas with market potential.  A notable accomplishment for Dr. Carter and UM Ventures is the recent sale of Living Pharma, a startup co-founded by Eduardo Davila, PhD, a UMB immunotherapy researcher, to Lentigen Technology Inc., a subsidiary of Miltenyi Biotec GmbH. The July 2017 acquisition of Living Pharma, which develops personalized chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies targeting various cancers, marked one of the first successful exit strategies for a UMB start-up.

Dr. Carter spends what few hours he has for leisure playing chess against a program called Deep Shredder. He equates his love for startups to the careful planning stage of the game while waiting for the right moment to attack. “I like to work with faculty members at an early stage to see if there is scientific and clinical soundness, unmet medical need and commercial potential. If all the right elements are there, I like moving the chess pieces in the correct order to advance the technology.”

He’s equally enthusiastic about working with students. He mentors a UM graduate student-led initiative to commercialize a diagnostic technology for leukemia, through the startup Nanobernetics. “My training was in blood and bone marrow disease, so finding new treatments for leukemia is my passion.”

If there’s one thing that Dr. Carter would tell faculty members wanting to start a company, it’s this: be realistic about your role. “They usually want to keep their day jobs, but being an entrepreneur is all consuming. They will usually only be able to serve as an advisor to the company and trust the management team that we put in place, unless they choose to leave academia and pursue startup life on a full-time basis.”

Dr. Carter, who says he works 100 hours a week between UM Ventures and his latest startup, Otter Immuno-Oncology, is somewhat of a startup addict. “A startup is a highly efficient translational vehicle to go from a mere idea to the patient’s bedside, and it’s an adrenaline rush.” He talks excitedly about his recent work with Scott E. Strome, M.D., an internationally renowned head and neck surgeon and Chair, Department Of Otorhinolaryngology - Head & Neck Surgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Strome has a “very promising innovation” that Carter says he would love to fold into Otter at some point.

“Entrepreneurship is not what you do when you can’t do anything else,” Dr. Carter says.  “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s the hardest thing I have ever done professionally and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.”