Glen de Vries, who just last month soared into space with William Shatner two decades after co-founding the world’s largest clinical research platform, Medidata Solutions, died Thursday when his small plane crashed in Hampton Township, NJ. He was 49.
New Jersey State Police identified de Vries as one of two people who died in a single-engine Cessna 172 that crashed after going missing near Kemah Lake, NJ. That touched off an alert by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to public safety authorities, which located the wreckage around 4 p.m., according to local news reports. “Aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances in a heavily wooded area,” according to an FAA incident report.
The other person killed was Thomas P. Fischer, 54, the owner and head instructor of Fischer Aviation, a family-run flight school in Fairfield, NJ, where de Vries had trained as a pilot, according to the company’s website.
The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board continue to investigate the crash.
“Our thoughts and support go out to Glen’s family,” Dassault Systèmes, which acquired Medidata in 2019, said Friday in a statement.
“Our deepest sympathy also goes out to our Medidata team, which Glen co-founded. His tireless energy, empathy, and pioneering spirit left their mark on everyone who knew him. We will truly miss Glen, but his dreams—which we share—live on: we will pursue progress in life sciences & healthcare as passionately as he did.”
De Vries was one of the four crew members of the Jeff Bezos-backed Blue Origin New Shepard, which made headlines worldwide on October 13, 2021, with a successful 10-minute ride into space that included Shatner, Captain James T. Kirk of “Star Trek” TV and movies; Chris Boshuizen, PhD, a partner with the tech-focused venture capital firm DCVC; and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s vice president of legal and compliance.
“We are devastated to hear of the sudden passing of Glen de Vries. He brought so much life and energy to the entire Blue Origin team and to his fellow crewmates,” Blue Origin tweeted. “His passion for aviation, his charitable work, and his dedication to his craft will long be revered and admired.”
“The world lost you too soon”
Added Bezos in a tweet: “Such a tragic loss. Warm and full of life, Glen made us laugh and lit up the room. He was a visionary, and an innovator—a true leader.”
“The world lost you too soon, Glen,” Bezos added.
De Vries detailed his experience aboard the spacecraft, his impressions of Shatner, his passions for aviation and space travel, and his leadership at Medidata on a recent episode of “Close to the Edge,” the series of video interviews from GEN Edge. The complete interview can be viewed here.
De Vries first connected with Blue Origin by bidding in an auction for a seat on the first flight, ending up on its list of prospects for future astronauts before buying a seat on the second flight for a price he would not disclose.
“In my professional life, I went towards the medical and the molecular. But in my personal life, I kept aviation and aerospace and planetary and interplanetary travel as a huge interest,” de Vries said. “When they called and said, would you like to go on a flight, I don’t think it took a millisecond for me to process that. It was a dream come true, and at the center of what I, emotionally from a humanity standpoint and intellectually from a scientific innovation standpoint, really believe in. So, I just jumped right on it.”
On “Close to the Edge,” de Vries also recalled his love of all things science—a love that propelled de Vries into a career focused on biotech: “I always loved everything in science. I love physics, and I love chemistry, and I love biology, which to me was kind of a combination of everything in foundational science that I loved as a kid, and as a teenager, and as a university student.”
He graduated in 1994 from Carnegie Mellon University’s Mellon College of Science with a degree in molecular biology and genetics, and for the past four years served as a trustee of the university.
“One of the things that I love about that school is, it’s got great engineering and great science, and great humanities, and great arts and performance,” de Vries said of his alma mater. “If you want to inspire people, you can’t just have the science. You need to have the people who understand expression, and understand getting emotion out to all be in an experience together, to get that complete view of it.”
“Whether by luck, or I hope, by design, we had that in our crew. And Bill was a huge part of that,” de Vries said, speaking of Shatner. “Bill was somebody who has spent their entire life, yes, playing Captain Kirk. But his job is expression, and he’s done it—not only on screen but on stage and in music, and in ways that those of us came from science and engineering don’t naturally think about.”
“Everybody’s eyes are wet”
When Blue Origin New Shepard reached apogee, and the crew was looking out the window, de Vries recalled, Shatner suggested the crew come together for a moment of camaraderie: “They don’t stream out, because there’s no gravity, but you could see everybody’s eyes are wet, teary, and it was really a moment.”
After Carnegie Mellon, de Vries worked as a research associate at Columbia University, where according to his LinkedIn page, he worked on implanting an electronic health record system for the department of urology and developed an assay to detect micrometastases in prostate cancer patients using RT-PCR. He later served as EMR project director at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, then president of OceanTek, the developer of an Internet application for healthcare and e-commerce.
In 1999, de Vries co-founded Medidata Solutions with partners Tarek Sherif and Ed Ikeguchi, and served as its president and later, co-CEO. The company described its mission as “powering smarter treatments and healthier people” by advancing transformation in clinical research with technology, nontraditional ways of thinking, and industry collaboration. According to Dassault, De Vries worked with companies ranging from pharma giants to small biotechs and medical device companies across tens-of-thousands of clinical trials.
Medidata became the most-used cloud platform in the world for life sciences research and clinical development before it was acquired by Dassault, which retained de Vries as its vice-chair of life sciences and healthcare.
Born June 29, 1972, de Vries recalled falling in love with space travel after reading everything he could about Skylab, the first U.S. space station launched by NASA in May 1973 and occupied through February 1974.
“For Apollo, I was too young, but I obviously read everything about [Skylab] and absorbed it,” de Vries recalled on “Close to the Edge.” “Skylab and the Space Shuttle program were just hugely inspirational to me. There was this book that was available in a physical bookstore—remember when we had those?—and it was called The Space Shuttle Operator’s Manual. I still have a copy of it.”
It was de Vries’ dream that in time, more and more people would come to travel in space as he did. He expected that dream to become a reality more companies join Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, and Axiom Space in moving space travel beyond the realm of government agencies—with benefits to society that go beyond the thrill of liftoff and landing.
“In the new space race—and I mean that in a very positive way—that’s going to create technologies that are beneficial and useful for problems we have to solve on Earth in a way, that I think and really hope we can use in an equitable, accessible way to help people all over the planet,” de Vries predicted. “How do we get people excited? Well, I think it’s actually a really exciting time and at least I’m going to go out and keep shouting that from the mountaintops, so people can get excited about it.”