Interview Preview: Dr. Hans Keirstead
If you were to write a fairy tale centered around a living personification of the American Dream, Dr. Hans Keirstead would be as strong a contender for the protagonist’s role as any you could hope to invent on paper.
Born and raised on a farm in British Columbia, Keirstead devoted himself to medicine, working hard to obtain his PhD before immigrating to America. Since then he has educated, researched, and innovated, and applied those experiences toward establishing groundbreaking businesses that have revolutionized medicine while impacting and saving an incalculable number of lives.
His story captures the very essence of the American dream. From his impoverished rural upbringing to his robust career as a groundbreaking neuroscientist and business leader, Dr. Hans Keirstead is the embodiment of evidence that those who work hard, dream big, and aspire toward impacting the world really can achieve goals that otherwise seem out of reach.
In our next issue of ABILITY Magazine, Nancy Villere and Chet Cooper sit down with Dr. Keirstead to discuss his awe-inspiring work in medical research, his experiences as a biotech industry business innovator, and his current run for public office — just when you thought that whole “American Dream” narrative was over — in his adopted home State of California.
Hans Keirstead is Fighting Cancer… and Making People Look Good in the Process
It can be said that innovating in medical research and innovating in business require two separate talents. After all, a business person likely sees the world through a different lens than someone conducting medical research. But Dr. Hans Keirstead, who founded AIVITA Biomedical, seems to see the world through both.
In his interview with ABILITY Magazine, Keirstead explains how his cancer-focused company finds funding through selling, of all things, skin care products. Two wildly different ventures tied together by the common thread of stem cell research.
“Our primary asset is a cancer treatment in which we’re the first in the world to purify cancer stem cells and use them in an immunotherapy for cancer,” Keirstead explains. “With the same underlying technology, we’re the first in the world to take stem cells and make them into pure skin precursors which then secrete every single factor relevant to human skin development.
“We just put that in a bottle,” he continues. “It makes you look good. One hundred percent of the proceeds are used to treat women with ovarian cancer.”
But his for-profit ventures aren’t nearly as exciting as his for-science ones. When Keirstead last sat down with ABILITY in 2007, he was working on developing a promising spinal cord injury treatment. Today, more than a decade later, that work is beginning to pay off with tremendous dividends.
“When we first met, I was working on a spinal cord treatment that has matured to treat humans. We’ve been just so successful with that, I’m just overjoyed. It’s gone through several companies, but where it’s at now is a company called Asterias [Biotherapeutics] running clinical trials treating people with complete spinal cord injury. No motor, no sensory below the level of the jaw, much like Christopher Reeve, who hired me back when we spoke last.
“And these individuals with no motor, no sensory below the level of the jaw, after treatment, have use of their arms, motor and sensory, their hands, and their feet. And that’s with 50% of the dose. They’ve also treated two people with 100% of the dose, and there are anecdotal reports of even better recovery. So I’m extremely excited about that.”
From the Medical Research Arena to the Political Stage
But while his fight against cancer and spinal cord injuries continues forward, there’s a new battle he’s lacing up his gloves for: a political one in his adopted home State of California, where Keirstead is making a run for Congress.
“I’ve always worked in very, very difficult subjects: spinal cord injury, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, these very intractable problems,” Keirstead says to ABILITY’s Chet Cooper. “And it’s not only difficult problems, it’s an extremely difficult environment, where you’re looking at governments, large industry competitors, difficulties in funding, and an extremely difficult biology to conquer. Those skill sets are perfectly translatable to politics; difficult problems and a very, very difficult environment, to say the least.
“Washington is not the cleanest of environments. The skill set of the scientist is to see through all the garbage, all the nonsense, all of the inaccuracies that are political talk in that arena and get to the fact. How about facts first? How about issues in front of politics? That’s what we should be doing.
“We don’t have anyone [in Washington] with a broad, deep understanding of the healthcare system, for example, not a one. 435 members, and there’s no one there with a broad, deep understanding of what is 20 percent of our economy. We need that.”
Cooper goes on to ask Keirstead what motivated him to run for office.
“I grew up in a very poor environment, and I know that when my dad didn’t have a job, he wasn’t thinking about politics. He was thinking about feeding the kids. And when our government starts shifting focus away from the middle class and the lower classes socioeconomically, we walk a pathway that takes us to becoming a country like Venezuela, where the middle class was destroyed. And then what happens? The entire economy collapses. We need to focus on that. That’s what got me interested.”
Read the Full Interview with Hans Keirstead in Our Next Issue of ABILITY Magazine!
How Keirstead might fair in his congressional bid, facing an incumbent popular in his district, is anyone’s guess. But rarely in the realm of contemporary politics does a candidate have such broad appeal toward both sides of the aisle.
Keirstead was a poor farmer who grew up to become an impressively successful business leader, thanks to an impeccable work ethic and his sharp business acumen. His story is one conservatives can rather easily get behind.
Meanwhile, he’s an unwavering advocate for the environment, especially in his congressional district — California’s 48th — where the environment plays such an integral role in the area’s residential, commercial, and tourism appeal. That means liberals can get behind him… and conservatives as well, seeing as how being pro-environment in his district directly translates into being pro-business as well.
It’s unheard of in our hyper-polarized and hotly contentious political atmosphere for a political candidate to have so much potential for bridging the divide between the left and right. But as you’ll learn in our next issue of ABILITY Magazine, Dr. Hans Keirstead is best described as someone looks at the impossible, shrugs, and rolls up his sleeves.