As CTO, Christina spends her days searching for phage that can kill Staphylococcus aureus. “Bacteriophage and bacteria have been battling for billions of years. We believe we are going to find something interesting through the environment that will become a good treatment for cow’s mastitis.” And they are searching everywhere – the sewage, the ocean, farm run-off… you name it. Currently, Christina is doing in vitro work to examine the success of various phages. Once they’ve identified a promising cocktail, they plan on applying it to cows to promote their udder health.
Christina was first approached about joining EpiBiome while she was spending a year at home caring for her young son. Christina knew Nick Conley, the president of EpiBiome from Stanford; the two were postdocs in adjacent labs. After spending some time at home with her son, Christina had begun the search for research jobs. “I started feeling like I wanted to go back to the lab and contribute something to science. Being home was very meaningful for my child and my family, but [I realized] it’s not the only thing I wanted.” This was perfect timing for EpiBiome, because they were looking for someone with Christina’s skill set to lead their technology development. Although she was at first scared of the idea of becoming a co-founder of a company, she quickly realized how complementary her strengths and background were to the existing team. Her husband was also very supportive of the idea of her co-founding a company and encouraged her to take the risk.
When she joined the team ten months ago, they were doing molecular biology experiments out of Nick’s garage. They’ve had to move their lab three times since then, as they’ve applied their technologies to increasingly regulated bacteria. Until recently, the other co-founders all had second jobs, so Christina was the first person to dedicate herself full time to the company. She spent a lot of her time early on working to get the lab spaces set up. Because the company was entirely self-funded at first, Christina would drive all over the Bay Area to buy lab equipment she saw on Craigslist in order to save money.
Even though Christina had no idea she would be starting her own company back when she was a grad student and post doc, I asked her what advice she would give to a student or post doc who thinks the start up route might be for them. She said that one of the best things someone can do is take advantage of the university environment and meet other people who have the entrepreneurial spirit. This could be through taking a business class or simply through talking about your ideas with lab mates.
When I asked Christina what’s important for her to live a full life, she said, “Having a dream. And pursuing that dream. I’ve always wanted to be a scientist, and I want to contribute my knowledge and skills to solving problems.” If the EpiBiome team can identify the perfect phage cocktail, antibiotic-resistant bacteria might just be a thing of the past. And it looks like Christina is in the perfect place to make that dream a reality.
San Francisco Chronicle article
Nature article about the start up competition funded by Illumina