Ryan Watts, CEO and co-founder of Denali Therapeutics, discusses his company’s mission, the progress it has made in the battle against neurodegenerative diseases, and how his personal experience of losing his mother to Alzheimer’s has underscored the urgency to develop cutting-edge therapies in this field.
On the personal experiences that fuel Denali’s mission: “Denali is not a founding story about solving my own Alzheimer’s disease. But there’s no doubt that when you know you have a risk and you see your family history, that your level of motivation is – it’s more personal. And there are so many people that are actually at Denali who have the same experiences, the same family history. Because it’s such a common genetic risk, many of them carry these. And then you have this collective desire to understand -- what is this, how do we develop the medicine to decrease the risk, and ultimately halt or cure Alzheimer’s in the sense that you can prevent it.”
On developing future medicines for neurodegenerative diseases: “I think we’re going to get to an era where all of us will go in. We’ll have our genotype. We’ll get fluid samples. We’ll get a scan. And we’ll know what the risks are around these diseases. And we’ll be able to take preventative medicines … I imagine – it may not be 10 years, maybe it’s 15 years -- you’ll actually have these preventative approaches for degenerative diseases where you can remove the toxic proteins that are building up over time and really prevent the onset of dementia. And I think that’s where we’re going. Certainly, it’s where Denali is going. But I think the field is going in that direction as well.”
On the importance of leading a company with purpose: “There’s really no separation between what personally motivates me and what professionally motivates me. And I think in a field that’s really difficult, you have to be founded on purpose. You have to really care about what you’re doing, so that when it is difficult and when you meet challenges, that you’re still really committed to understanding and you’re committed to success.”
This episode was recorded on May 5, 2022