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Caleb Lareau

Stanford University

Caleb Lareau describes his life, only half jokingly, as a “Silicon Valley meme.”

Within a few months of moving to Palo Alto, Calif. in the summer of 2020 for a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University’s medical school, Lareau joined a group of like-minded scientists to co-found a biotech startup focused on developing more effective cancer immunotherapies.

Entrepreneurship is an “infectious energy in Silicon Valley,” said Lareau. “I learned quickly not to just do basic research and wait 20 years for someone else to translate it. Do it yourself.”

“I find myself bouncing back and forth between the academic world and the startup world.”

Lareau’s research at Stanford and the work at his new venture-capital backed company, called Cartography Biosciences, uses single-cell genomics and other computational technologies to create a cell-by-cell map of normal and cancerous tissue. The goal is to identify new antigens — the molecular targets for cancer immunotherapy — that are more precise and less likely to have toxic, off-target, side effects.

“I find myself bouncing back and forth between the academic world and the startup world,” said Lareau.

Navigating both can be challenging, but Lareau credits his academic mentor Ansu Satpathy, a physician-scientist at Stanford who has pioneered the use of genomic sequencing to study cancer immunology. Satpathy is also a co-founder of Cartography and a member of the 2018 class of STAT Wunderkinds.

Lareau, who grew up in rural Oklahoma, earned a Ph.D. in biological and biomedical sciences from Harvard in 2020 after defending his dissertation on Zoom. He’s since taken an academic appointment as a Stanford Science Fellow. He’s also a Parker Scholar at the Parker Institute of Cancer Immunotherapy. Recently, Lareau gave a lecture on CAR-T cells at a Stanford genetics conference, after which he received an email from Nobel Laureate Andy Fire, praising Lareau’s talk and asking for a follow-up meeting.

“It was a surreal moment,” said Lareau, admitting to using more than a few expletives when sharing the news of Fire’s email with his family. “They were giddy about it.”

— Adam Feuerstein