A tribute to David Blake

The loss of David Blake has been felt deeply across our industry. Everyone at BioMelbourne Network would like to offer their heartfelt sympathies to his wife Sonya and daughter Alethea.

Some of those who knew David best have shared their memories and reflections on his life. You can read their tributes below.

Lusia Guthrie, Chair, BioMelbourne Network

I first met David Blake in 2005 not long after I had founded my company in Adelaide. In those days, biotech was barely “a thing” and there were not many health technology start-ups in our sector. David encouraged me to join the CEO lunches that were hosted in Melbourne. Twenty or so Melbourne-based CEOs, financiers and journalists would meet in a pub, buy their own lunch (and bevvies) and discuss the state of the markets and current issues for biotech CEOs. I would fly to Melbourne to participate in the debates and knowledge sharing led by David. For myself, as an experienced pharma exec but newly minted CEO, these sessions were invaluable. Looking back, they laid the foundation for many of the networking and industry organisations with which Melbourne is now blessed.

David asked me the questions about my business that I was reluctant to give voice to – those risk-based thoughts that keep CEOs up at night. He thoroughly researched all of Melbourne’s biotech companies through the lens of an investor and advocate.

David’s cheeky and sometimes provocative sense of humour made him a superb facilitator of Q&A sessions, always knowing how to get to the heart of the matter under discussion.

The annual Bioshares conferences, established by David and his business partner Mark Pachacz, became for me and many others, one of the most important and useful meetings in our calendar.

I will remember David as a generous, talented man, ever curious for knowledge and deeply committed to our sector. He had a holistic outlook on life and was committed to his other passions such as bush-walking and politics. He also made the best sourdough bread.

Throughout the months of his illness, David was open, honest, and accepting of his predicament. It was an honour to witness the deep bond he had with his wife Sonya, and daughter Alethea.

Finally, I am so proud of our sector in raising funds to assist the David and his family. $128,000 was gifted in record time by the generous members of our sector because of the deep respect we all had for him.

We shall all miss David.

David Langsam, Editor, Biotech Daily

David was a tireless advocate for the biotechnology industry.

When I started Biotech Daily in 2005, he had no hesitation in helping devise the original Top 40 for the BDI-40 Index and knew that the greater the focus on the sector, the better for the sector.

Unwittingly, we caused much confusion when Marc Sinatra joined Biotech Daily, with two Melbourne-based biotechnology publications run by David and Mark (Pachacz) and David and Marc.

Then I took my eldest son to his first parent teacher night at his new high school (University High) and ran into David. “What are you doing here?” I asked in surprise. “My daughter, Alethea, goes to this school,” he said –  a little indignantly. We lived just a kilometre or two from each other.

In private conversations, David did not suffer fools gladly. He was very concerned with a few companies and their characters, that he thought were not helping the industry. But he championed the rest.
The strength of Bioshares in maintaining a leadership role for our industry cannot be under-estimated, and especially the Bioshares annual skiiing conferences, which unfortunately I was unable to attend.

David was a stalwart of the Australian biotechnology industry. We shall all miss him.

Rudi Michelson, Consultant, Monsoon Communications

“Vale David Blake: publisher of Bioshares for 22 years, biotech analyst and industry leader”

Each week for 22 years David Blake published his analysis of Australia’s biotech and medical devices companies so investors could understand them and get advice on the best investments. Melbourne-based David Blake died last week aged 59 after a battle with lung and brain cancer.

David was a leader of the Australian biotech industry establishing Bioshares with business partner Mark Pachacz when there were about a dozen biotech companies on the ASX; there are now about 160. Bioshares and the annual Bioshares conference have been a great service to the Australian biotech sector.

In an extraordinary tribute while David was ill Clinuvel lodged an ASX announcement in which it gave David a large chunk of credit that company’s success

David is influential to CLINUVEL’s course and strategy and has been a key party to our successes to date. While he had been critical of Epitan at the turn of the century, he motivated me to pick up the battle to get the drug to patients.

Philippe Wolgen, CEO and MD of Clinuvel

Epitan’s share price around that time was 5 cents. Today it’s ~$31 with global sales, profitable and dividend paying.

Michael Johnson of Rhinomed credits David’s forceful encouragement in his efforts in early 2013 to salvage and turn around a teetering ASX enterprise called Consegna with its .01 cent share price and $3m market cap. Rhinomed’s market cap is now over $60m and it is a global leader in wearable nasal device technologies.

There is only modest income in writing an investment newsletter, yet it’s demanding work. You must understand the science, see the patient benefit, analyse worldwide competitors, meet and question CEOs, make sure the drug or device can be manufactured, and write about all this so lay people can understand. David did this, powered by disparate interests, a strong intellect and a zest for life.

His great passion was the outdoors – he was a founder of the Alex Pearce bushwalking club nearly 20 years ago – which has a concentration of biotech bush walkers. During his suffering he recalled the tough Victorian climbs: Mt Koonika, Mt Magdala, Mt Bogong, Mt Feathertop via the trackless Bungalow spur, the peaks of the Bogong High Plains and remote eastern Victorian forests near his favourite holiday spot at Mallacoota. He tramped the goldfields, the north western desert national parks, the extinct volcanos and lava tunnels in Victoria’s west, the Grampians and Wilsons Prom.

David was sixth of a Brisbane family of 10 children, the son of a devout Methodist minister. His mother died when he was six. He studied teaching then economics, finance and investment, and tried a wide range of jobs before applying his fine analytical skills to biotech.

A true iconoclast and independent thinker, at 22 David joined a small protest against Bjelke-Petersen non-assembly laws and was arrested, locked up and then let go with charges dropped.  In 2019 he stood as an independent for the federal seat of Melbourne on a pro nuclear energy and public housing platform, earnestly engaging his electorate and managing to get his deposit back.

David was a traveller and a talker. After his daughter Alethea did an exchange in Germany he studied German for 10 years and travelled there. He hosted German students, taking them into Victoria’s wilderness. He was a generous mentor to local North Melbourne kids, tutoring in English.

David married fellow Queenslander and the love of his life, Sonya, and delighted in his artist daughter Alethea, both of whom share his love of nature, travel and culture.

Peter Bradley, General Manager, Clever Culture Systems

David Blake was by training an economist and by actions a polymath, he was also my friend.

Other people will no doubt talk about his impact with Bioshares, the Summit and the counsel he provided to everyone he encountered from Students to CEOs. All received his attention in the egalitarian way that was a hallmark of his approach to life. David Blake collected friends. He didn’t do so with ulterior motives, he met people, learned from them, and nourished them all with new ideas and perspectives.

David was not just an analyst with a deep understanding of technology and science. David was also a student of food, wine, literature, and music. Our friendship didn’t grow through biobusiness even though that took up many hours of conversation. We became close friends through the love of great music, cooking, eating, and drinking wine. Sonya, Alethea, and David’s regular pilgrimage to WOMADelaide gave us the opportunity to indulge in all these things in one sitting. I cherish the memory of one such dinner talking over wine and food whilst a Fado singer gave the setting an ethereal quality.

David’s enthusiasm for all things would bubble over in many forms:

  • A new recipe David had discovered of duck in walnut and pomegranate sauce so we could compare notes – challenge accepted!
  • A discovery of an outstanding wine from a little know producer he wanted to share
  • Robert Tombs’ The English and their History turned up in the post and needed to be read so we could discuss it
  • Had I heard Allen Toussaint’s version of Paul Simon’s American Tune?
  • A link to an article in “The New York Review” on obscure Greek folk music

David Blake told us of his challenge in his famous “No Longer Theoretical” email in March. He died last week a scant 8 months later, far too young. He will be missed, and we are all privileged to have known him.

Neil Verdal-Austin, Chief Executive Officer, SomnoMed Australia

It was simply an honour to have known David – both personally and as a professional biotech supporter of SomnoMed. It’s certainly not easy to write about David in the past tense but in the many years of knowing him I can say that he was always positive, warm, and generous. He pushed me and challenged me – he raised interesting issues and was always keen for a debate. Many dinners went for hours – not always because the wine was good but also because the conversation was fascinating. I will forever remember a passionate and robust discussion (with wine!) around our company “purpose” – I left feeling like I had a lot to think about. He did that.

David will be sorely missed. SomnoMed’s deepest condolences to his family.

Leon Serry AM

David has been a friend since the very early days of biotech in Australia, a true friend. We talked often and we had the greatest respect for each other.

I have missed his good counsel over the recent times due to his illness and I will continue to miss our chats, our lunches and our views over the future years.

David gave his time to many in the industry and this has also been reflected by the tributes coming in.

Michael Woods, Chief Executive Officer, Newburyport Partners

There are few people who really deserve to be described as ‘an intellectual giant’, but David certainly did considering the depth of his insight and passion spanned topics as diverse as the biotech sector, geopolitics of Europe, US, China and Australia, the digital and information age and indeed recipes using the wild mushrooms in the Macedon Ranges. He was always someone who had an opinion, a worthy and well-informed opinion, and challenged me to think more creatively and read more widely, though I will never achieve the 400 pages a day he described as his benchmark of being widely read.

My dear friend, David commented when I visited him in late October about the tragedy of the vast knowledge and memories that are lost when someone dies which reminded me of the famous speech in one of the final moments of the movie Blade-Runner where Roy makes a speech with similar sentiments, ending with “…all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain…”.   In Davids case, he shared his knowledge and memory so widely that it is more like ‘the rain’ itself and lives on through the Bioshares reports, through the investment decisions individuals and companies have made, through the commercialisation strategies companies have adopted and through people that he has connected with one another.

The world is a poorer place after the loss of such a towering intellectual giant, and he will be sadly missed.

Vale David Blake.

Matthijs Smith, Director, Crucible Investments

I first met David in 2000 when he and Mark were putting together the first editions of Bioshares. This was a much-needed industry publication for the life sciences sector that was just emerging. For investors, the life sciences sector was (and still is) very complex and desperately needed someone to provide the landscape, a roadmap and a travel guide. Bioshares provided that context, education and insight. But it has been so much more. It has been an underlying harmonic to the evolution of the sector providing insightful commentary, wit and humour and facilitated interactions that has allowed the sector to grow and blossom. Without David, Mark and Bioshares, we would be in a very different place.

But David was so much more than Bioshares. He had an unabashed curiosity which meant if he did not know something, he would find out about, or get into an argument with someone who did so he could get himself educated. David loved a good argument. Arguing was the anvil on which he could beat ideas into shape. David’s curiosity infiltrated everything, and the more eclectic it was, the greater his curiosity. In addition to life sciences, we spent many hours talking about music, food, cooking, bread baking and fermenting foods. He recently gave me some of the rice vinegar he had been fermenting for 8 months which he said was disgusting. It was. We are so much poorer for having lost his sharp and inquiring mind and his determination to challenge and create controversy and debate in order to refine and improve. I will forever miss his smiling, sideways glance that he delivered whenever I said something he did not agree with. He could even do it on the phone. David was a brilliant, curious, obstreperous, challenging, argumentative, opinionated gentleman. I will miss him dearly.

Nairy Baghdikian, Cogentum

David was one of the first people I met in the biotech industry and certainly one of the most welcoming. He loved long coffee meetups and lunches discussing everything to do with biotech innovation – the companies, the technologies, the products, and most of all the people. It was always the people, their motivations, their influences, and their challenges that fascinated him. He may have criticized some for the decisions they made, but he was always understanding and nonjudgmental about the people behind those decisions.

He kept a notebook nearby that he would jot down a phrase or even a word that you said to him during one of these long discussions. Words, their meaning and the intent behind them captivated him. And he made you feel that you’d said something profound – because otherwise why would such a thoughtful and intellectual person take note of that word or phrase?

It was also the people in biotech he felt the most gratitude for during his illness, for their talents and perseverance that provided the treatments he depended on, and for their support and kindness when he needed it most.

I hope you felt the love David, thank you for everything. Condolences to Sonya, Alethea and his extended family.

Paris Brooke, Director, Bt Novo Pty Ltd

I am fortunate to have been a part of the Bioshares Summit team and friend of David for over 20 years. Dave was a connector. He was deeply passionate about this industry and particularly the people within it. He was never afraid to call things out but just as likely to praise where it was due. Dave was a champion for supporting young talent. We had a lot of fun through the Summit years – he was always there for a chat, career advice, cooking insights, nature observations and deep philosophical conversations.  Thank you, Dave, for keeping the industry on its toes, seeing the big picture and bringing culture and fun into everything we did. Your friendship has truly meant a lot to me and always will.

It’s time to pay it forward for you.

Greg Collier PhD, Managing Director, Barwon Biotechnology Pty Ltd

It is clear from the recent outpouring that David Blake was incredibly important to all of us in the Biotechnology Industry. I first met David with Mark, in my Melbourne office in the 90s. I was trying to find my way in a young and growing Biotechnology Industry and David and Mark had just entered the scene with a new publication to support emerging companies. David was always keen to engage, learn about the science and support young companies. He had a genuine interest in the science and was keen to understand concepts and look at how early science could be translated in the medicines for broader applications and produce commercially viable businesses.

We had many conversations over a 20+ year period and he was ready to challenge and understand wild ideas and above all he always genuinely supportive and helpful. Although these early years were important for many of us, it became even stronger in later years as his network and understanding of the broader issues and management across the industry became a huge asset for all of us.

David always had the industry and growth of companies as his key interest, he was the facilitator of so many new and important conversations, always thinking out of the box and always trying to connect people across companies, across disciplines to help grow ideas and result in new medical applications. David will be missed by all of us and we were lucky to learn from his passion pushing us to constantly improve.

Dr David Fuller, Chief Medical Officer, Race Oncology

My first introduction to David (and Mark) was over coffee in the Melbourne CBD shortly after joining Arana in 2007 followed by my first Bioshares conference in Thredbo in 2008. I was made to feel very welcome. As a conference “veteran”  I enjoyed the warmth and intimacy that David (and the conference) provided, and I fondly recall David merrily holding court and laughing heartily at the misfortune of Pete Smith’s broken leg – the subject of many jokes that year.

David was true pioneer in Australian biotech communications and analysis and universally loved his warmth, generosity humour and spirit. His passing is a true loss to the sector and he will be greatly missed by us all.”


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