Innovator: Dale Christensen

Dale Christensen

Drug development and entrepreneurial enthusiast gets ventures off the ground
Dale Christensen is president of Christensen Consulting and adjunct associate professor at Duke University Medical Center. Find out how he helps startups find the resources they need by providing guidance and expertise, while also promoting entrepreneurship

Q & A

Tell us a little bit of your background.

I was trained as a chemist and have drifted into pharmaceutical development and drug discovery. In recent years, I’ve focused on drug development – translating from the bench into clinical trials.

Tell us about your work with UNC startup Reveris. 

I started working with Reveris several years ago when I helped them with a grant application that was successfully awarded, kickstarting the company. Since then, I have been helping them by managing additional grant submissions as well as helping to direct their overall discovery process.

What excites you most about their technology? 

The drugs they are trying to develop target proteins that are involved in helping cancer cells grow, but there should be a wide safety margin because they don’t play an adverse role in normal cells. It is exciting because Dr. Leslie Parise has discovered a new cancer target that no one else is working on.

I understand you are working with KickStart Venture Services in reviewing applicants for its commercialization awards. Tell us about your involvement in the program. 

Not many universities have anything like KickStart Venture Services. It is an innovative program that provides early-stage funding to get companies off the ground by providing critical seed funding to demonstrate commercial potential from a discovery in an academic lab. The novel aspect is that it helps bridge to company formation. 

For the KickStart awards, I’m managing the grant review process. I help match entrepreneurs and talented scientists in the RTP area with grant proposals so we can make sure a grant review is made by experts in the community who have been through the commercial drug discovery and drug development process. This ensures that the projects are evaluated by people with a commercial mindset and that they can evaluate whether the approach being proposed will lead to something being commercialized. 

Why did you take this on? 

There are two aspects that led me to this position: One, to help promote entrepreneurship and development of new companies in the area from the economic development aspect. Two, to also contribute to more companies getting off the ground. Don Rose introduced me to Spyryx Biosciences, and we were able to convert a KickStart program into a company that will soon be generating Phase 2 efficacy data in clinical human trials.

​What are you involved with outside of UNC? 

On the business side, I consult with other small companies to assist them with drug development efforts. Outside of work, I avidly practice Taekwondowith my kids. It teaches discipline, focus and builds self-confidence (he’s even a black belt!).

Any best advice for startups as they look to turn their ideas into reality?

Make sure you build a team that includes people with the necessary expertise because, in the end, the team is what gets the technology commercialized. Also, understand there’s a lot you don’t know and get experts to help you understand what you don’t know and how to answer those questions.