July 11, 2022
Take 6: Russell Dahl, Neurodon
Russell Dahl is CEO and founder of Neurodon, a development-stage pharmaceutical company that is developing disease-modifying molecules targeting neurodegeneration, diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.
Neurodon and its New York-based partner JDRF have begun a two-year R&D development partnership with the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Université libre de Bruxelles. The schools will assess the potential of Neurodon’s small molecules as therapeutics for type 1 diabetes.
Dahl generously shared his time to answer our questions.
Question: Was this the profession you always thought you would go into?
Russell Dahl: I always enjoyed math and science throughout high school and college, so I knew that I would do something in the STEM field. I was a chemistry-biology dual major in undergrad, and I fully intended to continue on to medical school after graduation.
During my junior and senior years in college I started doing independent research in organic chemistry and molecular pharmacology with different faculty members, and I fell in love with experimentation and applying the scientific method to solve problems of significance.
After getting my Ph.D. in organic chemistry, I worked in the drug discovery industry for a few years. However, I really wanted to tackle big challenges, specifically related to diseases of great need, so I went back to academia first as a professor, then as an entrepreneur. My sole intent was the development of new drugs to help people suffering from seemingly hopeless diseases. That’s how Neurodon was born.
Q: How do you see your research being used?
Dahl: Our research has demonstrated the importance of a specific type of cellular stress, namely endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress, in the progression of major diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Therapeutics that alleviate ER stress enable a new avenue to halt or slow the progression of these diseases and provide new options for patients.
Q: What are you reading right now? What is on your reading list?
Dahl: Most of my time is spent reading scientific literature. However, when time permits, I’ve been revisiting the classics that I had read in high school or college but didn’t fully appreciate at the time. This includes the greats like Orwell, Bradbury, Steinbeck, Joyce and Brontë. Also, when I’m in the mood for something indulgent and entertaining, I usually fall back on something by Bukowski, Kesey or Thompson.
Q: What is your differentiator? Something that gives you a unique perspective, or your superpower?
Dahl: I fully adhere to the old adage that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Everything in life is an endurance test at some juncture. Success in college, graduate school, and career rely mostly on how persistent and committed someone is to their goals and desire to make an impact in their chosen field.
Our goal at Neurodon is lofty — curing major disease. However, for every molecule that shows efficacy in our disease models, there are hundreds that fail. With the high attrition rate of new medicines, drug development is probably the field that requires the most resilient and tenacious characters to succeed.
Q: What technology or discovery in your field is the most underappreciated?
Dahl: There are so many innovative technologies that make our research possible, so it is difficult to choose one. Fundamentally, protein identification and quantification are keystones of drug development. Since most biological drug targets are proteins, methods to identify and characterize them give us the opportunity to design new drugs that interact with the proteins in disease-specific pathways and develop new therapeutics.
Q: Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert?
Dahl: I consider myself an introvert that has trained to be extroverted. I was a quiet and reserved student through most of my schooling, most likely a result of being committed to my studies and in an effort to gain the favor of my teachers. However, as I got into graduate school and beyond, I realized that success is very dependent on being able to promote your ideas.
Two major circumstances hastened my extrovert training. The first was that as graduate students we were required to teach several undergraduate chemistry courses, some with over 200 students. After several quarters of teaching, I had become very comfortable with public speaking and interacting with students from a variety of backgrounds. Second, we were required to present our research at many internal and external venues. This included a large promotional component because you are attempting something new in the field and must effectively sell your ideas.
Thus, I learned that it is essential to be intentionally outspoken to advance your ideas and research. When I tell people nowadays that I am actually an introvert, they usually disagree with me. So, it seems like my training has been effective in this respect.
Thank you again Russell Dahl for participating in Take 6!