Keck Graduate Institute
of Applied Life Sciences
David was the Chief Academic and Scientific Officer, Dean of the Faculty, Norris Professor of Applied Life Sciences, and a co-founder. Working closely with the visionary President, Henry Riggs, the 7th Claremont College was established. Working with Jeff Van Ness, his lab discovered a new nucleic acid amplification technology (Ionian Technologies) originally used to diagnose flu, RSV and later became the first rapid test for Covid.
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (current)
Sacramento, May 2022
I first had the opportunity to work with David in the Summer of 1999. At that time four founding faculty were hired to create the Masters of Bioscience (MBS) curriculum for a new academic institution, the Keck Graduate Institute. Hank Riggs was the founding president and David Galas was the Chief Academic Officer. Four of us came on board that summer, David Wild (structural biology), Chen-Chen Kan (drug discovery), Jim Cregg (cell biology) and me (biophysical chemistry). We worked with David on a new curriculum for a new degree program. We wanted to educate science and engineering students for management and leadership roles in the applied life science industry (pharmaceutical, medical device and medical diagnostics). David led us through a series of “retreats”, usually held in a distinguished guest house in Claremont, to develop the curriculum that would later be known as a “professional science masters” degree. Startups are uncommon in academia, yet here we were at a new institution creating a new type of degree. It was a time that was both stimulating and daunting, as we knew that we had only one chance at this. We laid out the basic structure for the program during that summer and throughout the coming years as other faculty began to join us- Jim Sterling in Engineering, Seth Parker in Pharmaceutical Development and David Finegold in Business. The product of this work became the paradigm for the professional master’s program (PSM). There are now over 400 PSMs in the country.
It is during this curriculum development process that I got to know David and realize his great creativity and intellectual curiosity. David loved ideas. He would often stop by my office, not necessarily to talk about curriculum development, but rather to talk about a range of other things from the Genomic Revolution (it was 1999, the genome draft would come out a year later), to the impact of laboratory automation, to the role of computational biology on drug discovery and occasionally to fundamental issues of physics (David’s PhD was in physics). As I got to work with David longer, I slowly began to understand a little bit about how he thought and the source of his great creativity.
While David loved ideas, I believe that how he thought creatively about these ideas came from an abstraction that was based on images or perhaps imagery (which I define as visual symbolism). A striking example of this was David’s approach to writing. I had the great fortune of being involved on a writing project with David and another colleague that took place at the University of Washington’s writing retreat center based at Friday Harbor in the Puget Sound. This remote and idyllic location was an ideal setting to come together and write over complex themes- in this case it was Systems Biology. Over the course of our weeks at Friday Harbor, I became keenly aware of our differences in how we approach writing. My approach, perhaps the most traditional, is to broadly outline the material and use the writing process to create the content. So the creativity was in the writing of paragraphs. Our colleague wrote excruciatingly detailed outlines. So detailed that to create the final prose, all one needed to do is to convert the bullet points into sentences. The creativity was in the outline itself. On this occasion, David did something I never saw before. He spent his time deciding what graphs and illustrations he wanted in the text. He would collect these and then write to the images. The creativity was in the selection and source of images. To my mind, this revealed a lot about how David thought about things.
I have been fortunate to collaborate on a number of research projects with David. One of my favorite projects was the one using graph theory to study the effect of gene duplication and amplification on genetic networks. We were able to establish the behavior of a number of graph theoretical parameters that could provide a tool kit to analyzing genomic data to understand how gene amplification effects genetic networks. Reflecting back over the years, it strikes me that the appeal of the project was that it was very image driven. We would simulate these graphical networks and see how duplication effect the graph, a very visual manifestation of an idea.
As David got into the later stages of his career, he became more enthralled with the combination of graph theory and information theory. He was very productive during this period and this was not “turn the crank” stuff that are simple variations on a theme. Rather he produced a number of highly creative and abstract publications. David worked through foundational issues associated with identifying the statistical significance of gene associations to a given phenotype. A long time ago, David recognized the short falling of population genetic theory in the genomic era. He sought to remedy this. His approach was to seek fundamental information theoretical relationships to unpack the genetic associations and reveal genetic architecture. This work was just beginning, and I suspect it will take years for people to catch up with it and advance it.
It seems just like yesterday when David stops by my office at KGI and we would go to the white board and starting writing all sorts of crazy equations. I deeply valued my time with David and considered him as a mentor, colleague and friend.
T. Gregory Dewey
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science
President, Chatham University (current)
Reflections on David Galas
I’ve always admired David as the quintessential Renaissance man — someone who combines a rare interdisciplinary approach to science with his talents for photography, painting, writing, and deep-sea diving. His deep intellectual curiosity and sharp analytical skills have helped improve the work of all of his colleagues.
Our time working together at the start of the Keck Graduate Institute was one of the highlights of my academic career. It is rare to have the chance to be part of a start-up in higher education and David was the ideal academic leader for this effort. He brought a physicist’s mindset to the emerging field of Systems Biology, helping to bridge the faculty from so many different disciplines into a cohesive whole. He instilled a scientist’s commitment to experimental rigor into how we designed and implemented this entirely novel approach to graduate education in the life sciences, as we tried different approaches, kept what worked and rapidly adapted what didn’t, to help develop a new generation of leaders for the bioscience industry. We sought to instill in these bright young students from a wide range of backgrounds an integrated understanding of emerging technologies, business, the regulatory process, intellectual property, and ethics needed to navigate the arduous process of turning a new discovery into an approved drug or medical device. I remember fondly the excitement of those early years working with David and Hank — two of the best bosses I’ve ever had — and the pioneering group of students willing to take a chance not just on a brand-new institution that no one had ever heard of, but also an entirely new type of graduate degree that no employers were hiring for. Together we built the plane while flying it, and somehow managed to land it successfully. He instilled in me the confidence that I, who’d never run anything more than a college weekly newspaper, could design the business and bioindustry ethics portions of our curriculum while being immersed in a whole vocabulary and sector that were entirely new to me.
He also served as a role model for both fellow faculty and students on how to translate cutting-edge science into new start-up companies, leading the creation of Ionian Technologies and other bioscience firms that have brought new medical innovations, like the ID Now rapid diagnostic test, one of the first available to help detect COVID, to market. David and Bob Curry transferred their wisdom to students and fellow faculty in a course that brought in many of the leaders from the sector to share real case examples of how they had brought new innovations to market.
The deep friendships forged with David and Diane, Hank and Gayle and Sue and myself have endured in the many years since we left KGI. I was delighted to be able to feature David’s playful photos of sea lions cavorting in the kelp forests off of Catalina Island in classroom we remodeled at the School I was running at Rutgers. And to have many opportunities to visit with David and Diane and share wonderful meals and long conversations at their beautiful homes in Seattle and Bainbridge Island. And to host them in Pittsburgh when they came out to Pennsylvania for meetings at Geisinger. The friendship has even crossed generations, as I was able to introduce them to my dad, Dr. Milton Finegold and Jan, who built their own connections.
David, thank you for everything.