How to Raise Money for an Honest-to-God Innovative Biotech Startup: Highlights from Convergence

12/6/10Follow @xconomy

[Update: 1:15 pm Eastern] Lots of people in biotech think they are doing innovative things, even when they are really doing something pretty conservative, like testing a proven drug for some new use, or crafting some new way to deliver a therapy with more efficiency or convenience. But how, especially in today’s sluggish economy, do people muster up the guts, raise the mountains of cash, and find the staying power to do something truly big and unprecedented—like create a regenerative medicine based on stem cells?

Risky (or maybe reckless) as it sounds, it’s still easy to find people who are working on this exact kind of high-risk/high-reward kind of challenge. I soaked up some candid insights from some biotech cowboys on Friday during part of the Convergence Forum for life science leaders in San Francisco. This conversation generated more than a few tweet-worthy nuggets for our readers, which I thought were worth rounding up here. The speakers were John Mendlein, chairman of San Diego-based Fate Therapeutics and aTyr Pharma; Paul Hastings, CEO of Redwood, City, CA-based OncoMed Pharmaceuticals; David Perry, CEO of Palo Alto, CA-based Anacor Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ANAC); and Bryan Roberts, a partner with Venrock Associates in Palo Alto.

Perry got things rolling right away with some self-deprecating humor, noting that his company uses boron-based chemistry as a platform for drug development, and he’s been reminded more than once that boron rhymes with moron. “I think I saw that on a T-shirt once,” he quipped. Roberts, not to be outdone, said he tries to invest in innovative stuff, and “later it becomes incremental.”

Since this conversation skipped around a bit, I figure it easiest to just highlight a few of the quotes below. [Update] To listen to an audio clip from the panel, click here.

Bryan Roberts on meeting with Big Pharma: Big drugmakers often want to talk all about what they are interested in right now as a company. That’s a problem for a venture capitalist taking the long view. “What I invest in today, they don’t want now,” he said. The more important question is, “Will you still be there five years from now?”

David Perry on mitigating risk: Anacor sought to make its first two boron-based drugs into topically delivered formulations. That way, there was less amount of the drug circulating through the bloodstream (where unpredictable side effects can sometimes sprout up). Going with the topical delivery route also enabled faster and cheaper clinical trials than with a drug that circulates through the body.

Perry on raising money: “I have a very sophisticated approach to raising money. I talk to everybody who will talk to me.” Maybe only 5 percent will actually invest, but that’s OK, he said because … Next Page »

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