David Lucchino bears one of the more recognizable surnames in Boston — he’s a nephew of Larry Lucchino, the former chief executive of the Boston Red Sox and current chairman of the Pawtucket Red Sox. But although the younger Lucchino flirted with baseball — he was a late-round draft choice for the Baltimore Orioles in 1987 at the age of 18 but instead decided to go to college — the 48-year-old Charlestown resident has pursued a career in biotech. Lucchino was a co-founder in 2007 of Semprus BioSciences of Cambridge, a medical device firm that five years later sold to a Pennsylvania company for $80 million. And now he is co-founder and head of Frequency Therapeutics Inc., a two-year-old Woburn company working on a novel approach to restore hearing. On March 21, the entrepreneur is scheduled to become chairman of the board of directors of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, an advocacy group that represents 1,100 biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Lucchino has served on its board for six years. He spoke to the Globe in a Frequency conference room. On a table, within arm’s reach, were a tiny Rubik’s cube, a dodecahedron-shaped puzzle called a Megaminx, and several other twisty puzzles.
1. Lucchino grew up in Pittsburgh in a family that loved sports. He was a catcher in the western Pennsylvania equivalent of Massachusetts’s Cape Cod Baseball League and was drafted in the 48th round by the Orioles. But he decided to go to Denison University in Ohio and then Syracuse University to study journalism.
“I had a really strong arm, and I liked the leadership position on the field. Actually, it’s akin to what I do now. You have the whole field in front of you. The catcher’s basically the captain of the ship when you’re out on the field. . . . You manage your pitcher, like I manage scientists, in a collaborative way, and you help guide them to where you need them to be with each batter.”
2. After briefly working in journalism, Lucchino earned a master’s degree at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and pursued a career in biotech. He says he knows first-hand the value of life-saving molecules because he was diagnosed seven years ago with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. He underwent treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and has been in remission for five years. One of the drugs he took was Velcade, which was marketed by the former Millennium Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge and boasts over $1 billion in annual sales.
“I consider myself both a CEO and a patient. Fifteen or 20 years ago, [multiple myeloma] was a death sentence. . . . This is what I love about Kendall Square. . . . You take what was basically a death sentence and turn it into a chronic disease.”
3. Frequency, which has about two dozen employees, has raised $45 million from investors. It is working on technology to activate so-called progenitor cells that can repair damage in the spiral cavity of the inner ear by generating new hair cells.
“Ninety percent of all hearing loss is due essentially to noise pollution. Biology didn’t expect people going to Fenway Park to the Jimmy Buffet concert or standing on a subway platform.”
4. A recent report by the MassBioEd Foundation found that Massachusetts biotechs increasingly are hiring people for entry-level jobs as technicians only if they have completed four-year degrees, even though biotechs helped the state’s community colleges design programs to prepare graduates with associate’s degrees for those jobs. Lucchino says that as chairman of MassBio he will push the booming industry to welcome employees with diverse backgrounds.
“This is an industry for all. There are going to be people that are PhDs and MDs, but then there are going to be people that have different roles in the company. It could be business. It could be in the lab.”
5. Lucchino hasn’t quite mastered the Rubik’s cube and twisty puzzles, as some of his coworkers have, but he likes fiddling with them.
“Our jobs are about solving riddles and thinking through problems, and so sitting in meetings and having Rubik’s cubes to fidget with while you’re talking, one, puts people at ease; and, two, is symbolic of what we’re trying to do.”Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org