It might one day be to the world’s great fortune that Jacob Glanville, a young immunologist trying to make a name for himself in the field of universal vaccines, went online and found Tim Friede, a mechanic who had been shooting lethal doses of snake venom into his bloodstream for going on two decades. It may also prove to be yet another stroke of terrible luck for Friede.
But let’s start at the beginning. It was March 2017. Glanville, who left a principal-scientist position at Pfizer to launch a startup called Distributed Bio, had just developed a novel method for accelerating the creation of new drugs by extracting patients’ antibodies, the blood proteins vertebrates use to counteract the threat of viruses, bacteria, and toxins. He thought he’d apply the technique to cancer research. So one day, while sitting with a meditative view at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden, he took to Google in search of a melanoma survivor. Chasing a thought, he typed in “repeat venom survivor” instead and found Friede.