After graduating from the University of California-Davis with a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry, Galen Shearn-Nance (MED ’25) wasted no time in launching a career in drug development. Over the next six years, he immersed himself in research for storied global pharmaceutical brands Novartis and Merck, and for a startup called Nurix Therapeutics, all in the San Francisco area. By age 28, his work as a co-inventor was protected by five patents.
Then one day, Shearn-Nance realized he wanted something more. “I found I wanted more patient involvement,” he explains. “I wasn’t giving up on innovation. I’m very interested in biotech entrepreneurship and doors open to physicians in innovation.”
With the encouragement of his wife, a pharmacist, Shearn-Nance applied to the Case Western School of Medicine and was accepted into the Class of 2025. “I was drawn to CWRU because of the collaborative atmosphere within the student body.”
Arriving on campus in fall 2021, he dove into his new life as a busy medical student. Even though his free time was limited, he discovered that CWRU encourages students to find time for other interests. Wasting no time, Shearn-Nance joined MDplus, an on-line community of medical students and aspiring physician-innovators who see the future of medicine intertwined with innovation. He soon took on the role of co-director of biotech and life sciences within MDplus. To further advance his passion, Shearn-Nance accepted a medicine innovation internship at the Cleveland Clinic.
One day while chatting with a fellow medical student about common interests, Shearn-Nance learned about a new opportunity to advance his knowledge. The student had worked with Michael Goldberg, executive director of the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship and suggested that Shearn-Nance meet Goldberg. Not long after, he had a new role as a CWRU Alumni Venture Fund fellow, evaluating CWRU alumni, student or faculty founded startup companies in need of investment.
“The rest is history!” he smiles.
Meanwhile, two CWRU alumni and former fraternity brothers, Shardule Shah (CWR ’07) and Robin Mansukhani (CWR ’05), met for lunch to discuss their biotech startup companies, Lime Therapeutics and Deciduous Therapeutics. Shah was in fundraising mode for Lime, a startup founded in 2021 with a novel method of action for accelerating development of aging-related diseases such as cancer. Mansukhani suggested to Shah that he reach out to Goldberg about the CWRU Alumni Venture Fund.
“Up until that time, Lime had raised funds from family and friends, high net worth individuals, angel investors, and some institutional investors such as venture capital firms. We also had a good bit in non-dilutive funding,” Shah says. “We were in the middle of raising our seed round and Robin thought the CWRU Alumni Venture Fund would be a good fit.”
Shah adds, “As an alumnus, having CWRU on our cap table would be special and meaningful as I had invested four years of my life there, earned my undergraduate degree in biochemistry and here I was coming back. I was excited about the CWRU Alumni Venture Fund and their interest in alumni startups.”
Shah’s happy memories of his time at CWRU weren’t solely rooted in academics. During his freshman year, he noticed a young woman playing tennis and challenged her to a match. Although she beat Shah soundly, the pre-dental student ultimately became his wife. The couple share two children and two careers. Says Shah, “I count my blessings every morning.”
After graduating from CWRU, Shah went on to earn a PhD from Emory University in Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis. While at Emory, he worked closely with physicians and nurses to help translate basic science into drug candidates, igniting a passion for drug development. Post-graduation, he pursued a career focused on clinical trials and regulatory affairs in infectious disease diagnostics, first with a startup called Lucira Health and then with Roche Diagnostics, one of the largest diagnostics companies in the world.
“I learned something from each company,” Shah says. “I was one of the earliest hires at Lucira—the ninth full-time employee. I gained an understanding of agile and cross-functional teams and how to scale a company. At Roche, I learned the importance of processes. I tucked it all away as deep in my heart, I wanted to be an entrepreneur.”
Growing up, Shah admired family members who had followed a path of entrepreneurship. “They were excited every morning they woke up. I felt a burning desire to do the same.”
Realizing he needed a deeper understanding of business if he were to start a company, Shah applied to Harvard Business School (HBS) with the blessing of his wife, who was expecting the couple’s second child. During his first year at HBS, Shah took part in Frequency, an online networking event for life sciences entrepreneurs hosted by Pillar VC.
“I was hoping to meet a technologist to start a company with and I did, meeting Prakrit Jena, who was a senior research scientist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. What impressed me most about Prakrit is that he and the head of his lab, Dan Heller, had developed a ground-breaking technology to find new ways to target cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and metabolic diseases. Their angle was unique: stop the abnormal lipid processing that drove the progression of these diseases,” Shah says.
Following their introductory meeting, Shah and Jena embarked on four months of Zoom “dating,” meeting every night to chat on what turned out to be a wide range of topics. “We would discuss where we were as people and our vision. We both had young kids and we both wanted to make a tremendous impact on society,” Shah says.
The most intriguing topic—and the one that led to the founding of Lime Therapeutics in June 2021—centered on the question, “If lipids fuel cancer, why can’t we stop a cancer cell’s ability to metabolize lipids?”
It was a hard problem to solve. Jena and Heller devoted nearly six years to build and validate a platform to solve the problem that measures, in real time, how cancer cells respond to treatment. The non-invasive process generates measurements in seconds and costs a few cents to perform. Shah is particularly pleased with the latter, which means that lab animals do not have to be sacrificed at each timepoint, thus reducing the needed number of animals in a given experiment.
They sought out the advice on how to best position their technology from Heller’s post-doctoral mentor, Moderna co-founder Bob Langer, who said, “You have an exciting piece of technology, but it’s best utilized in your hands. Instead of trying to sell the technology, use it to create new drugs.”
“That validation was exciting,” Shah says. “We knew we had a company.”
Fast forward to 2022 and Shah’s decision to pursue an investment from the CWRU Alumni Venture Fund. A pitch deck was sent to Goldberg and Shearn-Nance, who would lead due diligence from the student side. “Because of my interest in cancer therapeutics, Lime was very appealing to me. After our first meeting, the student due diligence team was impressed with Shardule, and recommended they advance to due diligence.”
Shah was equally impressed by Shearn-Nance and the other students. “I was excited to see their interest in life sciences entrepreneurship and impressed with Galen and the level of due diligence. It showed us their interest was beyond simply writing a check. They wanted to be part of a company solving an important problem.”
While some students, even medical students, might have been intimidated by the science behind Lime, Shearn-Nance felt at home given his background in drug development. Where he did feel challenged was his lack of a background in finance. In this area, Shearn-Nance leaned into the experience and knowledge of the Alumni Venture Fund’s advisors to learn more about venture and angel investing, build his communication skills and learn the politics for gaining consensus on a deal.
Beyond due diligence, Shearn-Nance proved to be an even more valuable asset to Shah and Lime Therapeutics. “They needed more expertise in medicinal chemistry, and I was able to introduce Shardule to some of my contacts in the drug development industry. It was nice to provide that value,” he says.
At the completion of due diligence, the student team gave a thumbs up to fund Lime Therapeutics through the Alumni Venture Fund. Both Shearn-Nance and Shah say the process was well worth the effort.
Says Shearn-Nance, “Learning about exciting new science feeds my scientific interests. It’s inspiring to meet founders like Shardule, and fun meeting other students interested in this space.”
Says Shah, “Without a doubt I would recommend other CWRU alumni get involved. The Alumni Venture Fund lived up to its promise of being fast and frictionless, and I got industry connections I didn’t expect.”
Written by Melanie Lux