Biotech entrepreneur Girondi seeks orphan disease, son's cure
August 28, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Patrick Girondi is
a Chicago biotech entrepreneur who wants to save his son's life.
He also wants to deliver profitable returns for investors in his
Chicago-based biotech company, Errant Gene Therapeutics.
In the process,
he might deliver a cure for thalassemia, a horrible disease that
devastates the lives of people of Mediterranean descent. Girondi
also has his sights set on a cure for sickle cell anemia. If he's
successful, he could also help put Chicago on the map as a biotech
center. He has raised $1.7 million so far, and believes the prospects
for his company and its gene therapy treatment, Thalagen, are
"We will be in our first patient in about six months. The
FDA has already given us six beds at the NIH. We'll have six beds
at Sloan-Kettering. We should see results in 40 to 50 days. We
don't need to see a cure. We just need to see if a patient is
It would be
a tremendous step forward.
an unusual tech entrepreneur. He grew up at 26th and Halsted,
and doesn't have a degree in biochemistry or an MBA. He describes
himself as a tough kid who attended De La Salle, and found his
way into the Air Force, then to the Board of Trade, where he made
the rags to riches story," Girondi says. "I grew up
on the streets with no education. ... I was lucky. I made some
in 1987. Then in 1992, his first son, Rocco, was diagnosed with
thalassemia, a severe blood disorder.
is a genetic disease where the patient can't produce enough hemoglobin,
the oxygen carrier in the blood," Girondi says. "It
is a cousin disease to sickle cell anemia. Patients have to do
whole blood transfusions every 15 to 25 days to hold their hemoglobin
up. With transfusions there are complications and risks of other
diseases, plus iron builds up in the body.
He says patients
live to an average age of 27, succumbing to iron overload in the
only about 1,800 Americans are affected with the disease. Faced
with these small numbers, Girondi realized thalassemia was a so-called
orphan disease, not likely to be researched and cured. He decided
to learn everything he could about the disease.
out of trading, and into the pharmaceutical company," Girondi
says. He credits his fellow La Salle Street traders for helping
fund the company. "They just wrote checks," he says.
find a cure for thalassemia? There's no guarantee but De La Salle
President Brother Michael Quirk lauds Girondi. Quirk says, "Patrick
has worked his way up from the bottom. He's been generous to De
La Salle. Pat's a guy who never forgot his roots. He's really
could boost Chicago biotech. "EGT is the type of company
Chicagoans should be supporting," Dan Lyne, director of technology
development at World Business Chicago, says. "Patrick's taken
a successful career at the exchanges and a challenging personal
situation, and used his global network and personal resources
to fund a venture in the orphan pharmaceutical area. I think it's
Cubs, boost tech
acquisition of the Chicago Cubs by tech entrepreneur and Dallas
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban boost both Chicago's sports and tech
would be transformational. But Cuban throws cold water on the
Cubs idea. "They aren't for sale, so it doesn't matter,"
a pragmatic Cuban says.
the digital divide
Advisory Council on Closing the Digital Divide plans four public
hearings, council Chairwoman and MacArthur Vice President Julia
will allow Chicagoans to share ideas for closing the digital divide
with the advisory council. Hearings are scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept.
13 at the Woodson Regional Library; 6 p.m. Sept. 14 at the Sulzer
Regional Library; noon Sept. 20 at the Harold Washington Library
Center, and 6 p.m. Sept. 21 at the West Chicago Avenue Branch
In May, Mayor
Daley announced a plan to provide affordable Internet access throughout
the city, and formed the advisory council to examine ways to close
the digital divide.
did Hedy land Oprah?
How did Hedy
Ratner, co-president of the Women's Business Development Center,
land Oprah Winfrey to keynote the WBDC's 20th anniversary luncheon
entrepreneurial. She saw Oprah working out at the East Bank Club
and asked. Oprah said yes.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.