Steve Zimmer

BSc MBB, SFU 1976


CEO MitoDys Therapeutics


I graduated from SFU in 1976 with a BSc. (Hon) degree in Biochemistry.  I was able to persuade the University to allow me to do my Honours thesis in the laboratory of Professor Hans Thoenen, a world famous neuropharmacologist based in Basel, Switzerland. This led me to graduate work at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel on the developmental genetics of the fruit fly.  After completing an MSc.  I returned to my native US and decided that an expansive mind, scientific talents and knowledge would be better applied to helping the nascent biotechnology industry emerge from the laboratory to fulfill its commercial potential; it is thus that I became one of the first biotechnology analysts on Wall Street in 1980.  After a lengthy career analyzing, investing in and financing healthcare and life science companies, it was time for me to transition to working in the industry; eventually starting up my own company.  MitoDys Therapeutics, a company seeking novel therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS grew out of this desire, a frustration with high failure rates in drug discovery and the paucity of novel approaches in neurological diseases in general.  It was also born out of the experience of a mother stricken with Alzheimer’s, giving me firsthand experience of the devastating nature of these conditions.  SFU instilled in me the passion for science and technology which has informed and driven my life and career; for this I will always be grateful.


Why did you choose to go to SFU?
I chose SFU partly for spurious reasons (skiing), partly because I know someone attending (Aidan Ballantyne) and mainly because SFU had decided to initiate a Biochemistry program, one of the first (if not the first) Universities to do so at the undergraduate level.  My interest in neuropharmacology and neurochemistry drove me to learn more about the chemistry of the body.

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
Much time was spent in various labs including working in the chemistry department for a PhD student synthesizing derivatives of mescaline and metamphetamine!!

What is your favorite memory from your time at SFU?
I thoroughly enjoyed the lunchtime concerts in various nooks and crannies of the Purcell String Quartet. Orange punch mixers with ethanol from the lab!!

Who was your favorite SFU professor and why?
David Baillie instilled me with passion for the emerging science of molecular biology which led me down the career path I engaged in.

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
Both the study of biochemistry at the undergraduate level, the internship in the lab and the projects that I conducted for my honours degree were essential to my career.  The flexibility that the University showed in allowing me to pursue my interests in neurobiochemistry in a lab in Switzerland was a defining moment for my life and the path that I engaged in.

What is your favorite SFU snow story?
Mostly watching a raccoon roam around the SFU lodge at Whistler!!

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
Find a passion and don’t be shy about pursuing it in any reasonable way.  Be persistent but mindful of the world out there and try, to the degree possible, to fit your ambitions realistically into the art of the possible.

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
Inventiveness, creativity and flexibility.  The willingness to trailblaze into areas where others have not ventured.