Perlara founder attributes the company's downfall to its novel approach to biotech

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Perlara was celebrated for its revolutionary approach to genomics upon its founding as a public benefit corporation in Oakland, Calif., in 2014, but it was that very approach that forced the biotech startup to cease operations in February 2019, according to Ethan Perlstein, PhD, founder and CEO.

In an interview with Business Insider, Dr. Perlstein reflected on Perlara's whirlwind trajectory. For one thing, he said, the company's PBC structure — which prioritizes transparency and accountability — may have scared away some investors.

For another, Perlara may have tried to do too much, too soon. Because the company was juggling 12 separate research programs with its new methods, business structures and funding sources, when negotiations fell through with a major partner, the company's already "tenuous" operations came crashing down, Dr. Perlstein said.

"Be as idealistic as your heart wants you to be, but know with your brain to make a business, you're going to have to sacrifice one of those dimensions," he advised other wannabe-disruptors.

Perlara, which was accepted into the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator in 2016 and counted heavyweights like Mark Cuban among its investors, used CRISPR gene editing technology to model human single-gene disorders in small organisms, then the PerlArk Drug Discovery Platform to perform drug screens on those genetic mutation models. This precision medicine process could then be used to identify and repurpose already FDA-approved drugs to treat rare genetic diseases, many of which do not yet have approved drugs specifically for their treatment.

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