In early March, Peter Gallagher, EWMBA 22, was ushered into an emergency meeting headed by Prof. Jennifer Doudna, executive director of the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) and co-developer of the gene editing technology, CRISPR.
He and nearly 50 faculty, staff, students, and postdocs from the IGI were called upon to figure out how to repurpose their research labs to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
By the end of that meeting, Gallagher and the University Development and Alumni Relations fundraising team that supports the Institute had received marching orders to help raise $10 million to establish a pop-up coronavirus testing lab.
Raising that kind of capital can take months or even years to accomplish in normal times, Gallagher said. But surprisingly by the end of March, he and his colleagues had raised just over $10 million, enabling the Institute to build a diagnostic testing lab that can test 1,000 patient samples per day.
“It’s hard to overstate how hard that is to do in such a short amount of time,” Gallagher said. “In about three weeks’ time, the lab was up and running. It’s an incredible achievement.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like that,” he added. “But these are unprecedented times and people are responding in unprecedented ways.”
With the funding, IGI will be able to expand testing in the Bay Area, track the coronavirus, and support researchers focused on developing COVID-19 therapies, genome sequencing, and surveys to detect the prevalence of asymptomatic infections.
The coronavirus testing lab serves Berkeley students, first responders, homeless people, and people who are uninsured. Test samples come from local health agencies, including UC Berkeley’s Tang Center and Lifelong Medical Care.
Gallagher, an Oakland native and fifth-generation UC Berkeley student, has spent most of his career fundraising in the Northwest for social impact organizations, including his own, Seattle Catholic Worker, a Christian activist movement that focuses on serving the homeless and people living in poverty. So it’s no surprise that he was drawn to the Institute whose mission is to treat human diseases and end world hunger using genome engineering technologies like CRISPR.
“Peter has been instrumental in developing and maintaining our relationships with our donors, especially during the pandemic,” said Lucie Bardet, MBA 19, a project manager for the IGI. “His high emotional quotient and uncommon business intelligence has been a boon to the Institute.”
Bardet, who joined the Institute three months ago, has also been knee-deep in getting the lab up and running, she said. From supporting research teams tasked with handling diagnostic testing and vaccines to fundraising, Bardet, too, has been instrumental in helping the IGI quickly pivot to make the pop-up coronavirus testing lab become a reality.
Bardet said she’s enjoyed supporting COVID-19 relief efforts led by Jennifer Doudna. “For someone who has been working with startups and venture capitalists for the last few years, I’ve never seen a team respond this fast to a crisis.”
Gallagher and his coworkers will soon begin work on the second phase of fundraising for the pop-up COVID-19 lab, which he sees as a critical facility that will help slow the spread of the coronavirus and ultimately help people return to some semblance of normalcy, he said.
“While I can’t say that I’m leading this, I think we’ve all had to lead in different ways given the magnitude and scope of work,” said Gallagher. “The growth that I’ve had as a leader as a result of being at Haas has enabled me to respond more effectively to our work at this time.”