An MBA grad finds meaningful work in the fight against cancer and COVID-19

Posted 2021-02-11

Imagine a drug that treats both cancer and COVID-19. That’s what Matthew Sebastiani and the team at Bold Therapeutics are working on. The UBC Sauder Master of Business Administration (MBA) 2019 graduate works for a biopharma company that’s developing a clinical-stage therapeutic with promising applications for both diseases.

“BOLD-100 is a small molecule drug that selectively inhibits stress-induced up-regulation of a human protein called GRP78,” explains Sebastiani, who lives and works in Vancouver. 

“In cancer, GRP78 is important for resistance, survival and proliferation of cancer cells, whereas in viral infections like COVID-19, the same protein plays a critical role in host recognition, viral entry and viral replication.”

A lesson in biochemistry

In the simplest terms, GRP78 is like a shield. Cancer cells up-regulate GRP78 in response to stress, including stress from other anti-cancer therapeutics. BOLD-100 blocks this up-regulation, causing stressed or damaged cancer cells to die rather than repair themselves and replicate. 

Currently in human clinical trials for the treatment of advanced gastrointestinal cancers at six hospitals across Canada, BOLD-100 is thought to increase the efficacy of chemotherapies and other anti-cancer therapies by disabling cancer cells’ ability to defend themselves. 

Moreover, in pre-clinical studies, BOLD-100 successfully inhibited live SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and other coronaviruses within a therapeutic range, meaning it has the potential to reduce disease severity in COVID-19 patients.

In December 2020, Bold Therapeutics was one of only four companies selected to receive funding and advisory support from the National Research Council of Canada in COVID-19. With this funding, the company is pursuing more pre-clinical COVID-19 studies. If successful, BOLD-100 is expected to enter human clinical trials later this year. 

When an MBA launches a new career 


In 2018, Sebastiani was named Top MBA Ambassador of the Global Immersion Experience that took him to Tokyo to consult for Dai Nippon Printing Co.

In his role as Corporate Development Associate, Sebastiani puts every single skill he learned during his UBC Sauder MBA education to use.  

“In a small, early-stage biopharma company, you do a lot of different things. And you have to move quickly and efficiently because you are pre-revenue. I’m thankful for my MBA because it gave me practical skills in finance, accounting, strategy, business development and other areas that have propelled me forward in my career.”

One of the highlights of his career to date was supporting a capital raise process that netted more than double the target amount.

“We planned to raise $2 million, but we were oversubscribed and raised $5 million in capital,” says Sebastiani. “That was a great feeling.”

Building on prior work experience

In addition to leveraging his business skills, Sebastiani is also tapping into his network of government contacts, which he developed earlier in his career. 

Working on Parliament Hill as an economic policy advisor resulted in Sebastiani developing government acumen, as well as a wide network of contacts. 

“My undergrad is in Economics and I am passionate about politics, so after university I went to work for the Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Yohan Martin,” he explains. 

The job gave Sebastiani exposure to all areas of government; a foundation that serves him well since his company’s operations span government, healthcare, technology, trade and investment. 

“Understanding how government works is a great skill to have,” notes Sebastiani. “How do you lobby and advocate, how do you get in front of departments, what is the role of Members of Parliament and other levels of government? This institutional knowledge is useful for all business professionals.”

The secrets to finding meaningful work 

Sebastiani’s pivot from the public to private sector appears to have been effortless, but he says it required hard work, tenacity and networking. 

“Networking is so important,” he emphasizes. “Especially in smaller companies, a lot of jobs are created on demand and often aren’t advertised, so my advice to students is you really need to own the recruitment process. Use your network, put out feelers, and you never know what might come up.” 

Sebastiani’s life mission is to fight disease – something he discovered through his volunteer work with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada.

Although he landed the role at Bold Therapeutics through a referral from a colleague, it was not before he had done some deep thinking about his interests, values and life goals. 

For many years, Sebastiani has volunteered with Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, most recently as President of the Vancouver Chapter. Working with an organization dedicated to fighting disease is something that fills Sebastiani with a sense of purpose, so he decided to look for a job that would do the same. 

“One of the best things about my job is that we are working to help save lives and make medical breakthroughs. Just the thought that we can make cancer treatment more effective, prolong life and improve outcomes for patients is really rewarding.” 

Reflecting on the current job climate, Sebastiani says despite market uncertainties associated with the global health pandemic, there is a dream job out there for each and every business student.

“Learn all the business and management skills you can and then match them with your passions,” advises Sebastiani. “For me it’s health, but for others it could be the environment or social justice. That’s when you will find meaning in your work – when you match your skills with what you love to do and what you’re passionate about.”