Describe your current job and why you find it rewarding. What is most challenging?
TW: My primary job is in venture capital, where I invest in biotechnology companies as a partner at Bios Partners, a life science-focused venture capital firm. We look at emerging biotech companies that have a potential to disrupt current disease areas by developing novel life-changing options across various diseases. We’ve invested in oncology, Alzheimer’s research, ophthalmology and other areas. I serve on the board of several of our companies, two of which are in oncology. I also am the co-founder of a few companies, including Azitra Inc., a clinical-stage medical dermatology company that I co-founded in 2014 while I was at Yale. We’re developing biotherapeutics for skin diseases. I find all of this rewarding, most of all when we treat patients and offer relief and improvements in their quality of life. It's rewarding to help people in that way. I also love seeing emerging technology and being at the forefront of medical innovation. Finally, I’m an academic working in a non-tenure-track faculty position at Yale. As an associate research scientist, I study health systems and health policy with a focus on pediatric emergency medicine. I’m on the board of two nonprofits devoted to pediatric research and education. I’m also working on a Ph.D. in economics and health policy from University College London, with an interest in the intersection of finance and innovation in biopharma. The most challenging aspect is balancing it all!
How did your Yale School of Public Health (YSPH) education prepare you for your current work in public health?
TW: I often tell people that my decision to go to YSPH is probably the best decision of my career. So many aspects of my YSPH education have been extraordinarily valuable to my current work in biopharma. For example, I learned the basics of regulatory affairs, data analysis, and clinical trial design and interpretation. All of that together helped me build an incredibly strong and deep foundation that has allowed me to think critically and have the knowledge base I need to evaluate promising new biopharma companies and the pharma system as a whole. I also worked in a lab and did research on human genetics and basic science. Lastly, my graduate school classes in pharmacology and cancer biology gave me a fundamental knowledge base for analyzing preclinical data.
What was a seminal experience for you at YSPH?
TW: The most seminal experience for me was starting a biotech company (Azitra) with my cofounder, Azim Muniviar, who was a med student at Yale at the time. I learned so much from that experience. I worked in the lab at first but slowly got funding and grants to grow the company. Today, we’ve raised over $40 million in funding and are on the cusp of our first clinical trial in patients suffering from a rare but severe disease called Netherton syndrome.
What advice can you share with current and future public health students?
TW: First, don’t be afraid to branch out and take other classes! All other schools at Yale are accessible for YSPH students. One of my best classes was my health law class at Yale Law School. It gave me a strong understanding of the U.S. health care system. I also took classes in pharmacology, genetics and other subjects to add diversity to my education at YSPH. Second, don’t be afraid to ask other professors at Yale for opportunities and advice. I talked to dozens of professors when forming my startup biotech, Azitra. I also did a project in a Nobel Prize winner’s lab, Tom Steitz, just by reaching out to him and asking. Most professors warmly welcome cold calls from students. Third, take advantage of teaching opportunities across campus. I was a teaching fellow for a number of undergrad classes like Biochemistry and Cell Biology – a great (and lucrative!) experience.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your job and has it led to any significant changes in how you conduct your job moving forward?
TW: Despite the pandemic being awful and affecting so many people, it has been very positive for us. Meetings with investors or companies, etc., is a lot easier now over Zoom, requiring a lot less time and being significantly more efficient. Our team has also communicated more smoothly by integrating frequent calls and Slack. During the past year, we were able to close on a $150 million fund. I’ve also grown a presence on social media (@twhitfill) and have used my epidemiology training at YSPH to (try to) fight misinformation on COVID-19.
More on Travis Whitfill
Travis Whitfill is 2014 graduate of YSPH and is a serial biotech entrepreneur and investor. His background began in biochemistry and molecular biology at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Duke University before starting at YSPH in 2012. He is currently a Partner at Bios Partners, which is a life science-focused venture capital firm in Texas with more than $300 million in assets under management. He sits on the boards of five portfolio companies, including IN8bio (NASDAQ: INAB), a public company, and Azitra Inc., SIRPant Inc., Immusoft Corporation, and 410 Medical, Inc. He is the co-founder of several startup companies, including Azitra, Inc., which is a mid-clinical-stage medical dermatology company. His background in entrepreneurship and business and was acknowledged as Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in healthcare in 2018. He’s also the Senior Analyst at Bios Research, which brings experience in public markets and drug development to support venture capital investments. Mr. Whitfill is also an academic researcher and also holds a faculty appointment at Yale in the departments of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics as an Associate Research Scientist. Related to this work, he is sits on the board of several international research networks, including the International Pediatric Simulation Society (IPSS) and the International Network for Simulation-based Pediatric Innovation, Research and Education (INSPIRE), and is the treasurer for both organizations. Mr. Whitfill has been the principal investigator (PI) or co-PI of more than $18 million in federal grants/contracts, holds nearly a dozen patents, and has co-authored over 50 publications and book chapters. Mr. Whitfill received degrees from Yale School of Public Health (M.P.H.) and Dallas Baptist University (B.S.) and is working on a Ph.D. in healthy policy from University College London.