Jack O’Meara, a 2017 alumnus of the University of Notre Dame’s ESTEEM Graduate Program, has been named to the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe list. He was recognized by Forbes in the science and healthcare category for his work with Ochre Bio, which he co-founded in 2019 and is currently CEO of. O'Meara is among 300 honorees from across Europe.
A native of Ireland, O’Meara earned undergraduate degrees in biomedical engineering at the University of Galway and Purdue University prior to attending Notre Dame. He credits the ESTEEM program with fundamentally changing his career plans. “The speakers who came to visit us showed me what you can do and normalized ambition,” said O’Meara. “They became the catalysts for my own career path and choices, which ultimately led me to start a biotech company.”
Based in Oxford, England, Ochre Bio is developing RNA therapies for chronic liver diseases using a combination of deep phenotyping, precision RNA medicine and testing in live human donor livers. One of the big differences in Ochre Bio’s approach is that the company has replaced testing in animal models like mice with testing in human livers. “Various liver diseases have been cured in mice, but the technology didn’t translate to humans," said O'Meara. "We saw a need for a different model of developing liver therapeutics.”
The need is great. Chronic liver disease is the only top ten global health threat on the rise. Each year, 1.5 billion new cases are diagnosed around the world. Another two billion people are obese or overweight and at risk of developing fatty liver disease. Liver transplants are often the only treatment option yet less than 10 percent of the global need for liver transplants is met.
After participating in Y Combinator in California, O’Meara and co-founder Quin Wills succeeded in raising $9.6 million in a seed round led by Khosla Ventures. In October 2022, the duo closed a $30 million Series A round also led by Khosla but with participation from Hermes-Epitek, Backed VC, LifeForce Capital, Selvedge, AixThera and LifeLink. The new financing also added individual investors Alice Zhang, CEO of Verge Genomics; Kristen Fortney, CEO of BioAge; and Marty Chavez, chairman of Recursion Pharmaceuticals. Proceeds of the round are funding efforts to translate Ochre Bio’s research into drug candidates with the goal of moving candidates to clinical development in 2024.
Ultimately, O’Meara’s goal is to discover how to treat diseased livers while still inside the patient and avoid the need for liver transplants. That vision is well on its way to becoming a reality. Ochre Bio has established three partner sites in Connecticut, New York and Oklahoma in what it calls "Liver Intensive Care Units." These centers accept donor livers not suitable for transplant, keep them alive in special machines and then uses them to test the therapies Ochre Bio designs in England.
O’Meara admits the decision to become an entrepreneur and start a company was hard and emotional despite the support of many friends and colleagues. “You have to decide to go for it and have the grit to stay with it. Entrepreneurship is not easy like a traditional corporate career. Surround yourself with people you admire, get along with and get going.”
Originally published by ideacenter.nd.edu on March 20, 2023.at