Dr. Howard Berman, CEO and founder of Coya Therapeutics, doesn’t rely solely on scientific knowledge; he also has a deeply personal motivation driving his endeavors. As someone who has witnessed firsthand the devastation that neurodegenerative diseases can bring to individuals and their families, he hopes to conquer them—a desire that drives all his pursuits.
Hailing from a family of clinicians and physicians, Berman has a Ph.D. in pharmacology from Weill Cornell Medicine, where he studied functional magnetic resonance imaging. He developed a fascination with the sciences at an early age. No one motivated him more than his father, whom Berman describes as a distinguished physician, role model and inspiration. It was his father’s encouragement that motivated him to join the pharmaceutical industry, where he hoped to make his mark. His choice of career solidified when his father started suffering from cognitive loss, which led Berman to start Coya.
Through his company, Berman began developing treatments for his father’s condition. “I found it my mission to help him and develop a treatment that could either prevent or slow down or stop the progression of his disease,” he says.
Even though Berman’s father eventually passed away, his mission hasn’t wavered. He is still determined to create effective treatments for people like his father. Having personally seen the impact of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, the CEO feels that these conditions affect more than just the patient. In his experience, the toll on families is immeasurable, as they stand witness to the gradual disappearance of the person they love.
“It is terrible for the patient and the person who is stripped of his or her personality, but the family sees it with a front-row seat, and it is devastating for them to see their loved one being stripped away,” Berman says. “Seeing my father, who was so brilliant, who was such an inspiration to me, seeing his essence and just the genius of this individual be removed one day at a time was traumatic.”
Berman considers himself a general in the “army of healthcare professionals” who are waging war against neurodegenerative diseases. He describes the progression of these afflictions as a slow and relentless erosion of self—an insidious thief that robs individuals of their memories, personalities and very essence while leaving a path of heartbreak in its wake.
Within the walls of Coya, Berman and his team see themselves as not only researchers but also pioneers who are working to deliver treatments for conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The key to his company’s strategy is the regulatory T cell (Treg) in the immune system. According to the CEO, when these cells are not working properly, inflammation can get out of control. The focus of the drugs Coya develops is boosting Tregs, which can aid in treating Alzheimer’s as well as a spectrum of autoimmune diseases, Berman says.
As Coya expands its reach, Berman feels that he is carrying his father’s legacy, the hopes of countless families and the promise of scientific breakthroughs on this journey. He sees his work as more than a job; it’s a mission—shaped through loss and love as well as resilience and resolve.
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