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Exclusive: Meet The Harvard Professor Who Became A Billionaire Thanks To Coronavirus

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THE CHANGING FORTUNES OF THE WORLD’S RICHEST

Harvard biology professor and serial entrepreneur Timothy Springer saw promise in a fledgling biotech firm a decade ago and made an early investment. Now, primarily as a result of that bet — on a Cambridge, Massachusetts company called Moderna — he’s a billionaire. 

Shares of Moderna, which has a Covid-19 vaccine currently in human clinical trials, rose more than 12% this week, bucking the overall drop in the stock market. That surge has turned Springer into a billionaire: Forbes estimates he is now worth $1 billion based on his 3.5% equity stake in Moderna and stakes in three smaller biotech outfits.

“My philosophy is investing in what you know, and I’m a scientist at heart. I love discovering things,” Springer, 72, told Forbes. “Many scientists start companies but few are successful. I’m an active investor and also a very rigorous scientist, and that’s why I have a very high batting average.”

On Tuesday, Moderna announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, giving a boost to the firm’s effort to develop the first vaccine for the disease. Moderna was the first company to begin human trials of its vaccine, on March 16 in Seattle, and the company’s shares have nearly tripled in value since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic on March 11. The breakneck growth had already led to one other Moderna billionaire — CEO Stéphane Bancel, now worth an estimated $2.1 billion. 

Besides moonlighting as a billionaire biotech investor, Springer is a professor of biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Harvard Medical School, where he began teaching in 1977 and currently mentors post-doctoral students in his lab. In his research as an immunologist at Harvard, Springer discovered lymphocyte function-associated molecules, which led to the development of several FDA-approved antibody-based drugs. His first foray into entrepreneurship came in 1993 when he founded the biotech outfit LeukoSite, which he took public in 1998 and sold to Millennium Pharmaceuticals a year later in a deal worth $635 million; Springer got about $100 million of that in Millennium shares.

Springer was a founding investor of Moderna in 2010, when he put about $5 million into the company. Now, a decade later, that initial investment is worth nearly $870 million. But long before Covid-19 had emerged onto the scene, Springer was already thinking about how the company’s groundbreaking mRNA technology could help in the development of vaccines.

“We had the idea very early on that it could be used for pandemic readiness,” says Springer. “That’s why we invested in doing human trials with different influenza types, the types that are not normally seen in epidemics but could emerge and start a new pandemic. We were aware of this kind of scenario all along.”

While Moderna may be Springer’s most high-profile bet, he’s also a leading investor in three smaller publicly traded biotech upstarts: Selecta Biosciences, Scholar Rock and Morphic Therapeutic. In the cases of Scholar Rock and Morphic, Springer is also a cofounder, helping build the companies out of his scientific research at Harvard.

Unfazed by his newfound wealth, Springer still rides his bike to work every day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he conducts research at his lab. His only luxury, Springer says, is his home. “I like gardening and collecting rocks…I don’t need the money. I have an academic lifestyle.” 

He’s also using his fortune to give back to the scientific community: In 2017, he donated $10 million to establish the Institute for Protein Innovation, an independent nonprofit dedicated to researching protein science and helping biotech entrepreneurs realize their ideas.

“I like active investing, but I also very much like active philanthropy,” says Springer. “My motivation behind [the Institute] is not only to help develop new reliable antibodies that scientists around the world can use for biological discovery, but also, it has new technology that will just allow many more discoveries to be made. It’s the type of science that is difficult to do otherwise in academia.”

The Harvard professor isn’t the only member of the three-comma-club whose wealth has been boosted by the battle against Covid-19. Some healthcare billionaires’ fortunes have risen by billions of dollars since the WHO declared a global pandemic on March 11. The biotech rally could keep gathering pace as the public eagerly awaits new developments in the fight against Covid-19.

For his part, Springer is optimistic that the biotech sector will continue its rapid growth even once the pandemic is gone. “Before, we were vilified as charging too much for drugs…but now, everybody is quite aware that biotech is coming to the rescue,” says Springer. “Biotech holds great promise for new drugs, and the faith in biotech is justified.”

Giacomo Tognini, Forbes Staff, Covers Billionaires.

Billionaires

Tesla Vehicles Could Soon Become Completely Autonomous As Self-Driving Tech ‘Very Close’, Elon Musk Says

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Tesla vehicles could soon be completely autonomous as CEO Elon Musk said the electric vehicle firm is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology, during a virtual appearance at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai.

KEY FACTS

  • “I’m extremely confident that level 5 or essentially complete autonomy will happen and I think will happen very quickly,” Musk said.
  • He added that he is confident “basic functionality” for level 5 complete autonomy will be achieved this year.
  • The technology will allow vehicles to drive on roads without driver input.
  • Tesla, the world’s highest-valued carmaker after overtaking Toyota last week, already operates an Autopilot system that uses external cameras, radars and sensors, but it is driver assisted and does not make the vehicle autonomous.

KEY BACKGROUND

Tech firms, including Uber and Alphabet-owned Waymo, have pumped billions into developing self-driving cars, a futuristic idea that many had predicted would be ready by this year. But limitations around AI have stalled development of the technology. Last month, Waymo and Volvo announced they were teaming up to develop driverless cars for ride-hailing use.

TANGENT

In February, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tesla’s autopilot driver assistance was likely to blame for a fatal 2018 crash in California, leading to the board calling for more regulation of the technology, and for the company to better educate drivers on its limitations.

ADDITIONAL INFO

The road to completely autonomous driving has five levels: Level 0 describes no automation i.e. everyday cars. Level 1 represents features such as adaptive cruise control, while level 2 describes partial automation features that control speed and steering, such as those seen in Tesla vehicles. Level 3 and 4 represent limited driverless capabilities. Level 5 is the point at which a driverless vehicle can navigate all road conditions without human input, according to True Car.

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Elon Musk, Kim Kardashian Endorse Kanye West Running For President

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After years of hints, Kanye West formally announced he is running for president this year in a challenge to Trump, who he once supported, and Democratic rival Joe Biden, winning support from his friend and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

KEY FACTS

  • Rounding off his Fourth of July, West tweeted on Saturday night: “We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States! #2020VISION.”
  • Musk tweeted in response: “You have my full support!”
  • Wife Kim Kardashian also publicly pledged her support, retweeting West’s statement and adding a U.S. flag emoji.
  • West’s announcement follows years of hints that he would run for office this year which he later postponed to 2024, after publicly declaring at a Fast Company event in 2019: “When I run for president in 2024…We would create so many jobs! I’m not going to run, I’m going to walk.”
  • But the rapper, who recently inked a 10-year deal with Gap through his Yeezy brand, is reportedly yet to file any paperwork to get on state election ballots, while he has missed the deadline for states including Texas, New York, and Indiana.
  • It is not known how serious West’s intentions are this time around, however, he still has time to file as an independent candidate across most states, according to Ballotpedia.
  • West’s declaration was met with skepticism on social media, while some commentators pointed out that it could work out in Trump’s favour.

KEY BACKGROUND

West’s declaration suggests the rapper is looking to cement political ambitions he has expressed throughout Trump’s presidency. West previously forged alliances with Trump, and was pictured in the Oval Office in 2018 wearing a signature Trump ‘Make America Great Again’ cap. He once called the president his “brother” and previously hit back at criticism towards his support for Trump, likening the backlash to racial discrimination. Although he says he didn’t vote in 2016, West later said he “would have voted for Trump”, and earlier this year doubled down, suggesting he would vote for him in November. But that could very well change given Saturday’s announcement.

American rapper and producer Kanye West embraces real estate developer and US President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office, Washington DC, October 11, 2018. West wears a red baseball cap that reads ‘Make America Great Again,’ Trump’s campaign slogan. (Photo by Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Pictures/Getty Images)

TANGENT

West and Musk were pictured together on July 1st, with West tweeting: “When you go to your boys [sic] house and you’re both wearing orange.”

Isabel Togoh, Forbes Staff, Business

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Billionaires

Quote Of The Day

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We have grown past the stage of fairy-tale. As women, we have one common front and that is to succeed. We have to take the bull by the horn and make the change happen by ourselves.

– Folorunso Alakija, Billionaire Businesswoman

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