Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Dorothy Lou Bailey, a former researcher at Duke University, said she's been reading Xconomy for some time but this was the first of our events she has attended in San Francisco.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

There was holiday cheer in the lobby of Genentech Hall, as people filed in for the event.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Ryan Flinn, a former reporting colleague of mine from Bloomberg News now at W20 Group, was among those curious what the heck this event was about.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Adriana Trajonar, the entrepreneurship program manager at QB3, made some welcoming remarks.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Ashley Dombkowski of Bay City Capital and Bob More of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation re-connected while we were getting the A/V set up.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Sarepta CEO Chris Garabedian led off the afternoon with his roller coaster experience of the past two years. And yes, I'm trying to bring back '70s-style long curly hair.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Why is this man smiling? OncoMed CEO Paul Hastings struck a megadeal with Celgene just days before the Xconomy event.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

The view from the back of Byers Auditorium. Acoustics are great here, there's never a problem hearing the speakers.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Isis founder and CEO Stanley Crooke (left) told Danny Levine the story of how Isis once grew too big and lost its way. But the company has some resilient folks. Isis has retained about 15 of its original 30 scientific staff from its founding in 1989, Crooke says.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Bonnie Anderson, CEO of Veracyte, told Dan Bradbury the story about how Veracyte buckled down during the financial crisis and focused its resources on its lead diagnostic program, and put off some development of other applications.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

There was plenty of time for networking during the mid-afternoon break.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Charlotte Arnold (left) of Genentech and her colleague Krysta Pellegrino (right) took a moment to chat with Ashley Dombkowski of Bay City Capital.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

The crowd had some investors, business development people, young scientists, and senior executives.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Quite a few graduate students turned out for the event. It seemed like half of them mobbed Hal Barron at the end.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Aron Knickerbocker of Five Prime Therapeutics (center) caught up with Brian Atwood (right) of Versant Ventures.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

People tended to get wrapped up in conversations, me included. Thankfully, colleague Wade Roush reminded me when it was time to start the second half at 4 pm

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Erik Feest, a former graduate student at the University of Washington and veteran of several Xconomy Seattle events, came out to say hello and meet some new people in SF.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Brad Loncar (left), flew in to SF from Kansas for the event. Loncar, an individual investor in biotech stocks, has written occasional guest editorials on Xconomy.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Genomic Health CEO Kim Popovits led off the second half of the event, joined by interviewer Dan Bradbury, a member of Illumina's board. Popovits noted that things never go exactly according to plan, and this isn't the easiest year for the company. It will probably take 12-18 months for a couple of its new Oncotype Dx applications to hit their stride.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Ashley Dombkowski of Bay City Capital (left) was interviewed by freelance writer Ellen Licking. Dombkowski said she recently read Jim Collins book "Great by Choice," which advanced the idea that great, lasting companies often have 3 things in common: Fanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Hal Barron, the former chief medical officer of Genentech/Roche, wasn't revealing much about plans at his new company, Calico. I told him I'm dying to find out more about what the company is doing, and he quipped, "Me, too."

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Venrock's Bryan Roberts talked about how he looks for entrepreneurs who essentially get bored by following instructions, and excited by navigating really ambiguous, non-obvious situations.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Nina Kjellson of InterWest Partners noted that she's invested in one biotech recently, Tesaro, that's following a 'built to last' model. But VCs have to diversify with some other opportunities, like in digital health, that have shorter development timelines, she said.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Building Biotechs to Last

Building Biotechs to Last

Bob More, a venture capitalist who recently joined the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, talked about he looks to find ways to align the interests of investors and entrepreneurs. The trick at a place like the foundation is to, say, get a venture-backed vaccine developer to both reward investors and make real progress on applications that could help poor people.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Why would anybody want to build a biotech company to last? Isn’t that old-school? Doesn’t it make more sense to run lean and mean, hit a technical milestone, then sell the company to the highest bidder?

Given the difficult state of biotech venture financing, it’s hard to blame entrepreneurs for trying to find new models for creating companies. From the start of our big Xconomy event on Monday, I admitted that “Building Biotechs to Last” might sound a little quixotic. Still, building companies with a mass of smart people and a strong culture—the kind of operation that can create multiple new drugs or diagnostics—retains a lot of appeal. We heard stories from leaders of Genentech, Genomic Health, Isis Pharmaceuticals, Sarepta Therapeutics, and Veracyte, who are all seeking to create companies that are resilient enough to get through the inevitable ups and downs.

More than 165 people turned out for this afternoon event on Monday at the UCSF Mission Bay campus. Special thanks go out to all the speakers, attendees, and the event host, QB3. I’d also like to thank the sponsors: Cubist Pharmaceuticals, Kilpatrick Townsend, and Silicon Valley Bank, as well as event supporters Health Advances and Sarepta Therapeutics.

I got a few comments from speakers down in my notebook, but not all, because I was mainly trying to keep the trains running on time. Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times had a good report on Hal Barron and his new mission to fight aging at Calico, the Google-backed startup led by former Genentech CEO Art Levinson.

To get a flavor of the proceedings, check out the photos taken by Scott Bramwell of SRI International. Thanks again for coming, and join us for the next Xconomy event.

  • wibi+works

    Awesome to see women so well represented! Thanks Luke!

  • http://www.xconomy.com/ Luke Timmerman

    Thanks wibi, I always try hard to get women involved in Xconomy events, and was really happy to see such a good gender balance there. Without making extra effort, it would be easy to end up with another industry event that’s heavily male-dominated. Thanks to the Women in Bio SF group for helping spread the word about the event, too.