The Missing Ingredient in Today’s Biotech: Guts
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to get much better. People with rare diseases, long ignored by the pharmaceutical industry, have legitimate reasons to feel hopeful about a lot of new treatments in the pipeline.
Third Rock is one clear example of a venture firm that has shown that the “anything is possible” attitude can still be profitable. The firm was founded in 2007 to make really risky, far-out bets on companies tackling things like cancer metabolism, epigenetics, whole new classes of protein drugs, and novel treatments for rare diseases. The final report card isn’t in yet on Third Rock’s performance, since venture investments take a long time to mature, but some of its first portfolio companies like Agios Pharmaceuticals, Alnara Pharmaceuticals, and Ablexis have all struck quite lucrative deals.
The firm’s strategy had to look like insanity to many people during the recession, when the masses were turning conservative. Yet by investing big when others were hunkering down, Third Rock has had its pick of the scientific litter, and shown that it knows how to turn those ideas into valuable properties that others in the industry will buy.
Certainly there are other venture funds out there who have shown they still have an appetite for high-risk, high-reward ideas—Arch Venture Partners, The Column Group, and Atlas Venture are a few—but Starr acknowledged that Third Rock finds it difficult sometimes to find VC firms willing and able to join investing syndicates.
Hearing that sort of thing makes me wonder about the long-term health of the industry. If the industry–VCs, scientists, entrepreneurs, everybody—can’t get the mojo back, then we could be sitting around with a lot of scientific insights in the lab that nobody really knows how to turn into products for human health. Everybody will be fixated on the 100 reasons why something won’t work, and failing to see the one reason why it might.