Oaklander Naveen Jain may have stumbled on a groundbreaking idea:  Anyone can be a superhero. Because instead of super-speed or impossible strength, these heroes can beat the deadliest virus on planet Earth. HIV controllers, the 1 in 300 people who have a natural immunity to HIV, are the closest we’ll get to comic books, Naveen says. With The Immunity Project, a bio-medical start-up, he wants to give that “biological superpower” to the world, using controller genes to make a free, effective HIV vaccine.

Naveen co-founded The Immunity Project with Dr. Reid Rubsamen, an anesthesiologist and founder of the drug delivery company Flow Pharma, who was working in the operation room the day Naveen’s daughter was born. “It’s pretty easy to remember that day,” Naveen laughs. Rubsamen introduced Naveen to the idea of HIV controllers, did all the lab work, and then brainstormed with him how to bring the results from Petri dishes to patients.

Naveen was used to thinking big as CEO of SparkArt, a digital agency that usually works with rockstars and sports teams. He studied computer engineering in college before dropping out, but the idea of reverse engineering, disassembling, always stuck with him. “By taking apart something that already works,” like the genes of HIV controllers, he says, “you can work backwards to find out how it works.” Naveen was hooked.

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