Meet BTS Alum Adam Mendelsohn
Adam Mendelsohn, PhD, is co-founder and CEO of Nano Precision Medical, Inc., an Emeryville-based startup company that is developing a rice-grain-sized subdermal implant that delivers medicine at constant rates over time. His company is pursuing a type-2 diabetes application as their lead program; it is meant to replace the need for frequent injections with a very small, long-term implant.
A 2011 alumnus of the UCSF–UC Berkeley Graduate Program in Bioengineering, Mendelsohn reflects on his years at UCSF, saying, “I learned that research is very, very difficult. I learned that it is important to have carefully thought-out plans, but that it is even more important to establish a robust research process that allows deviation from the original plan and to keep an open mind as the data reveal themselves. I had some very frustrating moments, but I am grateful for those experiences that provide me with the perspective I have today.”
Mendelsohn, California born and raised, first discovered his love of science when he was a freshman at Santa Monica High School; he credits his chemistry teacher, Dr. Gregory Runyon. “I distinctly remember his description of Bohr’s atomic model, and I was particularly intrigued with the ability for this model to predict the behavior of atoms. Once the foundation for the behavior of mass at the atomic scale became solidified in my mind, I was fascinated by the power of science to use that understanding as a jumping-off point from which to more easily understand larger-scale phenomena, such as why water molecules sometimes form as a liquid and other times as a solid. The practice of discovering models that consistently predict behavior, and testing new models based on additional observations to obtain a more complete understanding, represent the powerful way in which science has enabled humanity to produce the complex technologies we take for granted. I knew at that time that I loved science, and that a life spent studying and contributing to science would be both enjoyable and meaningful.”
“Our startup is designing a tiny implant to precisely deliver drugs into the bloodstream.” —Adam Mendelsohn, PhD
In addition to Runyon, Mendelsohn was inspired by many subsequent teachers and professors throughout college and graduate school, including UCLA physics professor Robert (Bob) Cousins, and Tejal Desai, PhD, who was his PI while he earned his doctorate in Bioengineering at UCSF.
Before starting his PhD studies, Mendelsohn spent two years working at a start-up company founded by Alfred E. Mann. He realized that he enjoyed the team-oriented, product-driven environment of a startup. “I knew that I wanted to either start my own company or join another startup developing a technology with the potential to positively impact many lives. I was fortunate to find two incredible co-founders, Kayte Fischer and Lily Peng; we competed successfully in business plan competitions while we were in grad school. Success in these competitions provided the confidence to actually start our company, and I haven't looked back since.”
In discussing the leap from lab to corporation, Mendelsohn says, “It is never easy to be faced with having to make decisions regarding situations that one has never experienced before. Because of my father's professional role as a financier, I had the benefit of learning about financing companies. I also had the benefit of being connected with experienced advisors with whom I could have open and frank conversations about the challenges our company was facing, and to learn from their perspectives before we had to make decisions. The first couple of years presented a steep learning curve, but eventually I began to experience situations for the second, and then a third, time. I learned to value the experience of others tremendously, and am grateful for all of the support and resources available to first-time entrepreneurs in the San Francisco area.
“There are numerous challenges involved in developing a new technology and a company, and different challenges present themselves at various stages along the way. The one challenge that I had not anticipated as much as I would have liked has been that of managing people. The amount of time that should be dedicated to human resources was not something I learned during my time at UCSF. Ultimately, I am very proud of the team that we have built and the accomplishments that we have made, but getting to where we are now has not been easy. There are other very important technical and non-technical challenges—including technology development, manufacturing, intellectual property, and financing—all of which are big; however, in my experience, none of them clearly rises above the others as being particularly more difficult. Overall, starting and running a company is not easy, but it is incredibly rewarding; and I hope to continue building companies over and over again so long as I am able to contribute positively towards humanity,” says Mendelsohn.
Mendelsohn’s most passionate hobby is music. He has played piano since the age of five, and violin since age eight. He completed a double major at UCLA, in physics and music performance. He continues to play classical chamber music with others who were serious musicians while young, but later pursued professional careers outside music. “Music allows me to take a break from the rigors of science and come back with a fresh perspective, and always uplifts me after I play,” he says. “Once, I played my violin during an advanced mechanics physics course at UCLA while the professor was writing equations on the chalkboard describing how the instrument was able to produce the different frequencies of sound. That was one of the few direct ways in which my musical background participated in my scientific education. Music taught me the value of long-term gratification; this foundational experience at such a young age facilitated my willingness to persevere through my scientific endeavors.”
Mendelsohn adds, “My interest in pursuing an entrepreneurial journey in science was inspired by Al Mann, a medical device entrepreneur who spent his life working on technologies that would cure diabetes, cure deafness, and cure blindness, among others. Al passed away last year, and his presence will be missed; I hope to have a fraction of the positive impact on humanity that he was able to contribute.”
The Mentors - Desai & Mendelsohn (from UCSF Magazine)
About the School: The UCSF School of Pharmacy is a premier graduate-level academic organization dedicated to improving health through precise therapeutics. It succeeds through innovative research, by educating PharmD health professional and PhD science students, and by caring for the therapeutics needs of patients while exploring innovative new models of patient care. The School was founded in 1872 as the first pharmacy school in the American West. It is an integral part of UC San Francisco, a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide.