Josiah Hornblower '00 was an art history major, but has made his career in the biotech industry by following his own interests to find success.
When Josiah Hornblower ’00 arrived at Trinity, he never imagined he would one day co-found a successful biotechnology company. His grandmother was a blood research scientist, and as a child he tagged along to her research lab, marveling at her rapt concentration amid the mysterious vials and test tubes. But his interest in science waned, despite taking science classes in high school. At Trinity he took just one science class during the last semester of his senior year. His major was art history.
What drew him initially to art history classes was the atmosphere. He still remembers those dim rooms and the mesmerizing glow of projector slides. “It was soothing,” he says, “sitting in the dark like that.” His first art history class brought students on a journey from antiquity to modernity, sparking a fascination that carried him through graduation. “Art history was an incredible way to study history and humanity,” says Hornblower. “Works of art can be the most primary sources.”
That interest in getting to the root of the information, the primary source, would later serve Hornblower well. His career trajectory is the product of his own intellectual curiosity, which he first fostered at Trinity. Upon graduation, like many of his classmates, Hornblower moved to New York City and began a career in finance. He found that he did well with investments in industries he was fascinated by. In the early 2000s, for instance, he delved into groundbreaking work relating to the human immune system. He read all he could, investigating the companies involved and their latest innovations. Hornblower thinks of this period as a critical supplement to his liberal arts education. “I call that my graduate degree from the university of life,” he says.
With this newfound information, he started investing in oncology and genetics research and the associated technologies. “People think I don’t know anything about science because I didn’t study it. But I probably put more hours in studying than the average Ph.D.!” While learning more about the medical and science fields, he reconnected with Taylor Schreiber, a classmate from St. Paul’s School, and started a small company called Pelican Therapeutics.
The idea for the company had come during a hike with the two friends. They decided to pursue a grant and wound up being awarded a $15.2 million contract from the State of Texas for clinical trials based on their research in cancer immunotherapy. Hornblower ran Pelican’s business and financial side while Schreiber pursued groundbreaking research on T-cells and the inflammatory responses of the immune system.
Ultimately, Hornblower and Schreiber’s work with Pelican wound up seeding a larger project—Shattuck Labs, which they founded in 2016. Shattuck has allowed them to expand their work, and build molecules that are multifunctional, allowing multiple therapeutic mechanisms to synergize to provide potentially more effective treatments for cancer patients.
Hornblower compares Shattuck’s biotech innovations to the strategy employed by Apple. “While technically genius, Apple’s breakthrough was conceptually very simple,” he says, “ they asked whether it was possible to consolidate a cell phone, a digital camera, and a MP3 player into a single device. Shattuck’s innovation is similar, and we’ve figured out how to stich complementary elements that separately enhance immune responses against cancer and make them work together more effectively in a single drug.” Shattuck has built over 300 unique molecules using its platform technology, and is now actively investigating its molecules in three clinical trials in cancer patients. The company Hornblower and Schreiber built has now become an emerging major player in its field, partnering with larger companies to innovate on a broader scale.
Despite the recent worldwide turmoil, Hornblower remains optimistic about Shattuck’s future. “The world has changed and the investment world has changed. But to folks in oncology, and its related capital market activity, healthcare technology has become even more important.” Just recently in October, Shattuck went public through an IPO on the NASADQ raising over $200 million from premier public investors.
From art history to entrepreneurship, this alum can look back to Trinity and trace the roots of his success. “Trinity’s greatest qualities, for me, were its high-caliber teachers and academic opportunities,” says Hornblower. “My experience at Trinity was that liberal arts teaches you about people and humanity, philosophers and artists. The world is your oyster.”
Hornblower believes his fellow students were also essential to his education. After entering Trinity as a shy teenager, Hornblower grew comfortable interacting and exchanging ideas with a broad range of personalities with various interests and backgrounds. “It’s a school where you’re around people with a high social EQ and IQ,” he says. “This accelerated my ability to learn, get involved, and try new things.” He feels this social experience served him well in growing his companies, wooing investors, and recruiting an impressive board of directors and leadership team at Shattuck.
Hornblower recently stepped back from actively running Shattuck and now serves as Executive Chairman. Yet he remains passionate about the company and its further impact in the years ahead. Meanwhile, Hornblower is looking forward to the next project on his horizon. Wherever that venture may lie, his deep love of learning – inculcated amid masterpieces of art and the soothing glow of slide projectors – will take him there.