It’s been about a year since Mehmood Khan took one of the biggest leaps imaginable from a high position at one of America’s major corporations to head a startup that was not yet two years old. But the former vice chairman of PepsiCo says that the CEO job at Life Biosciences Inc. offered him an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“PepsiCo has history and deep resources and huge brands in the marketplace,” Khan told Chief Executive. “We could operate and rewire this iconic and great company at the same time,” he said of his position working with former CEO Indra Nooyi to transform the Purchase, New York-based “junk-food” giant into a major global player in the revolution to better-for-you foods and beverages. “I had the privilege of helping lead that transformation.”
But with the position at Life Biosciences that lay before him as he was “thinking about the next chapter” of his career, Khan found a “chance to actually build something from scratch. It was a team that didn’t yet exist at a company that was unfounded even two years ago. It would be a case of recruiting and attracting the right talent and sharing the vision and creating something from scratch that truly could transform how we treat older people. It’s of interest to every living human being.”
Specifically, Boston-based Life Biosciences is dedicated to tackling what it calls the “eight pathways of age-related decline” as the cause of the “systemic breakdown of the [human] body, rather than a series of isolated symptoms, events and conditions.” It is bringing together what Life describes as “the world’s leading scientists and researchers to increase health spans and reduce disease for everyone, including companion animals.”
What Khan saw in Life Biosciences was the intersection of “two or three axes of my lifelong interests.” One was “innovation making a difference in people’s lives,” which he’d overseen as chief scientific officer of global research and development at PepsiCo and as president of global R&D for Takeda Pharmaceuticals. A second was helping create “scale impact: how food and agriculture can take on the challenge of rethinking health care and medicine for the global aging population.”
And, third, Khan was “always attracted to how you take very smart people and build organizations that harness the collective capacities of all of them, and amplify that – build the right organization and lead them. I’ve been a believer that the leader has to be the dumbest person in the room and lead from behind. Then you can get the best out of people.”
Khan believed that Life Biosciences has “some of the most capable scientists on the planet” in the field of meeting the health needs of the world’s rapidly aging population. He said that the “science behind the aging process already has been very well elucidated” and that now, with the development of “powerful analytical tools, we know how to interrogate [the science] and therefore do something about it.”
So Khan is leading the company as Life Biosciences identifies biological plaftorms “where we know the pathway is directly related to the age-related pathway and then identify ways of intervening, and as a result change the natural course of the aging process by leveraging cells and biological’s own mechanisms that normally would be storing or replenishing cells’ functions.”
Drugs will be the primary vehicle for what Life Biosciences develops, Khan said, but the company may turn to “nutraceuticals” – bringing in a food element – in the future.
“Right now, the focus is to find the right treatment. There are all sorts of possibilities, but at the start we want to make sure we focus and deliver to show this is possible and what we can bring to market. Then we’ll go from there.”