When Forge Therapeutics COO and VP of Discovery David Puerta first set foot on the CSUDH campus, he wasn’t sure what kind of career he wanted to pursue. As a first-generation college student, his (and his parents’) initial goal had been to just get to college. After being recruited to play soccer for the Toros, he started classes with only a vague notion that he wanted to be involved in science.
“I was always interested in science,” Puerta said, “but I didn’t know where you could go with that in terms of a career, outside of being a physician or dentist..”
Due to a close relationship with his chemistry professor, Leonardo Martinez, Puerta began to focus his studies on biotechnology. “He became the kind of mentor that I think you would have if you had parents that had gone to college,” said Puerta. “Being able to have that personal relationship with your professor was really helpful. We would have conversations not just about homework, but about my career path and opportunities. I learned that a degree is nice, but you also need to think about what you’re going to do with it.”
Opportunities to do research at the undergraduate level furthered his passion for science and showed him what his career path could be. “Getting involved in undergraduate research at CSUDH really opened my eyes. [It] told me that this is something I like to do. I would prioritize (research) over other things I had going on, so it reinforced that it was what I wanted to do as a career.”
After graduating from CSUDH, Puerta pursued his graduate studies at UC San Diego. He then spent seven years in Boston, leading discovery research for a start-up there called Living Proof. A few winters of shoveling snow later, he moved back to San Diego to become co-founder of his own biotechnology company called Forge Therapeutics.
At Forge Therapeutics, Puerta and his team are working to create new medicines to fight everything from bacterial infections and inflammation to cancer and diabetes. The company uses a platform that Puerta helped create while attending graduate school at UCSD, which allows them to discover new chemistry for the treatment of a broad range of diseases.
“Our platform is unique in that it targets metalloenzymes, which are proteins in your body that use metals to perform biological functions,” explained Puerta. “Proteins are really good drug targets. We can target proteins and shut them off if they’re bad actors causing diseases, or if they’re in bacteria or viruses, shut them off and then the bacteria or virus dies.”
Puerta attributes much of his success to the attention and direction he received while at CSUDH. He didn’t even know that pursuing undergraduate research was a possibility until a professor suggested he give it a try. “Doing research at CSUDH gave me the knowledge that an interest in science can lead to bigger things,” said Puerta. “I could explore my curiosity and actually make a career of it! The experience was perfect for me.”
To find out more about David Puerta and the work he’s doing at Forge Therapeutics, visit their website at www.forgetherapeutics.com.