After studying biology in college, David Zuckerman, MBA’18, was a researcher for a pediatric oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Turns out the molecular techniques he was using were sought after by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which hired him to research responses to bioterrorism and set up a lab in Los Angeles. Three years later, in a complete 180, Zuckerman became an investment manager at Merrill Lynch. Family ties, however, eventually pulled him and his wife (and two boys) back East. Now he is in the health-care industry again, working in Boston for Pear Therapeutics, developer of the first FDA-approved app for treating substance abuse.
How did you go from bioterrorism research to investing?
My work at the CDC was really interesting. I got to work with anthrax and smallpox and plague. It was exciting and dangerous. But my next step would have been applying to medical school or getting a Ph.D., and I didn’t want to do either. I always had an interest in the markets and had a connection to an investment group at Merrill Lynch that offered to bring me on if I got my licenses. I stayed with that team until we left California.
Tell me about Pear Therapeutics.
We’re building prescription digital therapeutics, which is a fancy way of saying apps for patients. The first one is for substance use disorder, which is a huge issue all over the country. Patients are prescribed the app along with face-to-face therapy. The app delivers therapy through a mobile device via a series of lessons based on cognitive behavioral therapy. The app includes incentives to do the lessons, and it can report on the patient’s status. Another differential for us is we’ve built a clinician dashboard, so the clinician can see in real time the patient’s progress, cravings, and triggers.
When will it launch?
Mid-2018. We’re building out our pipeline of other products at the same time.
Why get FDA approval?
The FDA asked us the same thing. We have this incredibly strong clinical data and want to make claims that show we can help patients increase abstinence. Now we’re a defined treatment that can be prescribed and not just an app that we hope people download.
Was it hard leaving California?
We had a little apartment seven blocks from the beach in Santa Monica. It was a really great place. We were away from the East Coast for 10 years. I don’t regret a second of it. But it’s nice coming home.—Donna Coco