Ethan Perlstein never planned to be a CEO. Ever since his college research internship in a lab at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), he had dreamed of becoming a professor at a high-powered research institution. After completing his Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard and earning a Lewis-Sigler fellowship at Princeton, he seemed perfectly positioned to take that next step. “I was in the academic 1%,” he says.
Apparently the 1% wasn’t good enough: His 2-year job search yielded zero offers. He was stunned and unprepared. “I was in an existential rut because I hadn’t thought of a plan B,” he says.
That was 2012. Today, Perlstein is the CEO of Perlstein Lab—PLab for short—a for-profit, public benefit corporation he founded in 2014 that is housed in a biotech incubator in San Francisco, California. The company aims to identify candidate drugs to treat rare diseases, which in the United States are defined as diseases that affect fewer than 200,000 people in the country. Approximately 7000 distinct rare diseases exist, according to NIH; examples include cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, and muscular dystrophies. Many are known to be caused by mutations in single genes, yet for the vast majority no treatments are available. Perlstein aims to change that.
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