CEO, Lengo Therapeutics
Tuck put me on a path that was different than I initially planned, but actually worked out better than I ever could have dreamed.
Enoch Kariuki T’11’s success is rooted in the resourcefulness of his mother, who had been forced to leave school after the first grade. What she lacked in formal education, she made up for with determination and an innate talent for business. She built a wholesaling company and then a beer distributorship, and funneled every shilling into her children’s education.
Kariuki gained admission to one of the premier high schools in Kenya and was later accepted to a number of prestigious American universities that he couldn’t afford to attend, even with generous financial aid. Texas Southern, a historically black university with a well-regarded pharmacy program, offered a full scholarship. “That’s how I ended up in Texas,” Kariuki says. “I had no idea where in the world Texas was.”
A mentor pulled strings to extend his aid, and Kariuki earned his doctorate in pharmacology. He enjoyed the science but also was drawn to the business of pharmaceuticals, and a professor suggested he do a postdoctoral fellowship with one of the major drug companies. He had his choice of programs and chose a Bristol Myers Squibb fellowship for its unique focus on R&D strategy and analytics.
At Bristol, Kariuki found his calling at the confluence of science and commerce, and also recognized the need to improve his business foundation. “I wanted a top-ranked MBA program with a strong health initiative and a lot of international students,” Kariuki says. Tuck provided all of the above plus a scholarship, but the school’s most lasting impact stems from the nurturing environment he found there, from the mentorship of senior faculty like Michael Zubkoff, to classmates in his study groups and alumni he’d never even met.
“I came to Tuck with a very clear plan,” Kariuki says. “I was going to get my MBA and go back to industry. Then I got to Tuck and there was a whole new world of private equity and venture capital and investment banking.” Seeking guidance, he went to the career office, where a counselor handed him a list of five prominent alumni, each of whom spent an hour with him. Their advice? Spread your wings.
“Paul Clark, in particular, said, ‘Try something different. This is your chance to explore,’” Kariuki recalls. “Tuck put me on a different path that was different than I initially planned, but actually worked out better than I ever could have dreamed.”
Kariuki’s specific blend of scientific knowledge and business training is suited to the current moment in biotech, where breakthroughs in the understanding of the human genome and technologies such as CRISPR have opened a world of new opportunities. Within this space, Kariuki says, “I've chosen to spend my time working and investing in companies that are truly making an impact on patient lives.”
When Kariuki joined Synthorx, which is pioneering the use of synthetic DNA to target cancer and autoimmune therapies, the company was valued at $75 million. Two years later, it sold for $2.5 billion. His new company VelosBio, which was recently acquired by Merck for $2.75 billion, is developing a novel targeting technology for Interleukin-2, an effective but highly toxic chemotherapy drug.
“We used to take the shotgun approach,” he explains. “If you had cancer we’d give it chemo and it kills cancer cells, but it also kills healthy cells. Now we can have the proven lifesaving effect of this drug, without the toxicity.”
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