Biotech Pioneer Steve Gillis on Life as a VC, How Today’s Entrepreneurs Can Make It, and Seattle’s Future in Life Sciences (Part 2)

9/24/09Follow @xconomy

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the Bay Area. Is it every bit the equivalent of San Diego? I think so. Part of the reason is there are only so many academic institutions here. I don’t want to go through the list, but we have X, and Boston probably has 10x and the Bay Area has 5x. So I’d say to the entrepreneur in Seattle: stop complaining about it. Get on with your life and try to start something.

X: Do you mean license something from somewhere else and build it here? Does that make sense?

SG: Go find the best things that are here and go work on them. Or find the brightest people that are here. To a great extent, that’s the Arch model. It was, and still is, to walk around the halls at universities and try to find the top 1 percent of the intellectual property that’s there and see if something makes sense to start a company around.

X: I mentioned cancer and immunology. Are there disease categories you think the region lacks in, and might benefit from some kind of boost in a targeted way?

SG: We’re not big sector investors, we’re agnostic on sector. We tend to look for developments that can have impact in multiple disease areas. Some VCs say, “We don’t do oncology companies, or we only do oncology companies.” We aren’t like that.

Obviously metabolic disease is going to play an increasing role in healthcare budgets and opportunities. We have a great diabetes research center run at Virginia Mason by Jerry Nepom, but we don’t have seven of them. We don’t need seven of them. But Seattle can hold its own quite well, even with the quite larger biotech hubs of the Bay Area and Boston. But we don’t need to keep kicking ourselves in the rear that we’re not Boston or San Francisco. We’re not going to be.

X: How many portfolio companies are you on the board of?

SG. Eight. Technically, I’m on the board of more because they’re part of Accelerator, but I don’t really count those. In Seattle I’m on the board of Accelerator, Trubion, VLST, Theraclone, and VentiRx, and Qwell Pharmaceuticals. In Boston, I’m on the board of Surface Logix and Variation Biotechnologies, which is half in Boston and half in Ottawa, Canada.

X: Is there another Immunex or two in your portfolio for the region?

SG: I don’t think there’s a company that’s ever going to be … Next Page »

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