A New Mexico State University graduate who grew up in a small town south of Las Cruces was named by Forbes magazine among the top 30 young entrepreneurs creating solutions to some of healthcare’s most pressing problems.
Bobby Brooke Herrera grew up in San Miguel and graduated from Gadsden High School. In 2012, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from NMSU, with minors in chemistry and religious studies. This week 29-year-old Herrera, who co-founded E25Bio, Inc., was named to Forbes 2020 “30 under 30” list for healthcare entrepreneurs.
The company announced in August it had raised $2.3 million in seed funding. Its fever panel is the first of its kind to be able to screen for active viruses and enables a more rapid and accurate diagnosis of infectious diseases in time for patients to receive potentially life-saving treatment.
After he left Las Cruces, Herrera earned a master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School while working fulltime as a lab technician. That reignited his interest in bioscience research to earn his Ph.D. at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, where he worked with Phyllis Kanki, a pioneer in the research of HIV1 and HIV2.
While conducting research for his doctorate in her lab, Herrera developed T-cell based diagnostic tools for Zika, Dengue and Ebola viruses to be evaluated in local hospitals and labs.
Herrera is the chief science officer of the company he co-founded with career researcher at MIT Irene Bosch and MIT professor Lee Gehrke.
The core team that makes up E25Bio, Inc. is comprised of Harvard and MIT scientists and experts who have spent years on the ground in Asia, South America and Africa chasing highly infectious pathogens. They have seen first-hand the human impact these diseases can have as a result of limited public health systems.
“Dr. Bosch isolated monoclonal antibodies for Dengue, Zika and Chikungunya to produce rapid point-of-care tests,” Herrera said. “She recruited me to co-found the company with her in 2018, which is funded by venture capitalists and a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The company is interested in producing monoclonal antibodies to be utilized in the development of point-of-care, affordable tests for highly infectious diseases. With a few drops of blood, you can get diagnostic results in five –10 minutes.”
Herrera’s research journey began with NMSU’s Minority Access to Research Careers program, which allowed him to get hands-on experience in the lab as sophomore. Herrera credits Michael Johnson, head of the program in the College of Arts and Sciences, and biology professor Maria Castillo, for getting him involved in research as an undergraduate, which led Herrera to pursue advanced degrees at Harvard.
“In the years since leaving NMSU, Bobby Brooke has returned to NMSU’s MARC program multiple times to council and encourage our students,” Johnson said. “He is a great example of how time spent mentoring an individual branches into the outreach of many.”
For Herrera, the study of both science and humanities has influenced his social justice approach to public health.
“I’m passionate about the basic biology of infectious disease pathogenesis, but also I’m intrigued by the anthropology or the human side of those infected with these microorganisms,” Herrera said. “If we can understand structural determinants and human behavior and combine that knowledge with rigorous science and experimentation, we will be able to develop and implement more robust vaccines and diagnostic tests.”
In the next 10 years, Herrera hopes these approaches will allow E25Bio, Inc. to develop better diagnostic tools, which lead to a fairer healthcare system for people now suffering and dying in developing countries.
“We need to get to a place where there is a just public health system and not an unjust public health system. That’s what my colleagues and I will try to do through our company.”
Herrera’s achievements at such a young age were not easy. To go from San Miguel to Cambridge, Mass. was a culture shock, and earning two advanced Harvard degrees while working full time was a challenge. Co-founding a biotechnology company is hard work but Herrera doesn’t allow obstacles to deter him.
“For a gay individual coming from the borderland, it was hard to get to where I am now,” Herrera said. “It was my belief in myself and in my dreams that made it happen. It’s important to keep your mentors close to your heart, they are the ones who believe in you and propel you forward. Nothing can be done without a team and I have an incredible team of family, friends and personal mentors that has allowed me to succeed.”
Author: Minerva Baumann – NMSU