Biotech companies once dreamed of building soup-to-nuts operations that put everything under one corporate flag. You’d have research, development, marketing, manufacturing all together in one big team of bright people taking big risks. Think first-generation companies like Amgen, Genentech, Genzyme.
The days of starting companies like that are mostly in the past, thanks in part to the financial crisis of 2008, and the many losses investors have suffered pursuing those models. So even at a time when research is more exciting than ever, how exactly can people take advantage of it to build enterprises that make valuable new healthcare products?
This is one of the vital questions facing the biotech industry, and Xconomy is thrilled to bring a dream team of national leaders together on this theme in Seattle on April 3. This big new Xconomy event, “Reinventing Biotech’s Business Model” will be held from 2 pm to 6 pm on April 3 at PATH, in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
The star-studded lineup includes a mix of people from around the country who are experimenting with a wide variety of new biotech models:
—Corey Goodman, partner, San Francisco-based venBio. Goodman is what you could call a biotech renaissance man. He was a Big Pharma executive who ran Pfizer’s biotech drug and innovation center. He’s been an entrepreneur, as co-founder of Exelixis and Renovis. He’s also been an academic, as a professor of neuroscience at Stanford University and UC Berkeley. Now he’s a venture investor with venBio, seeking to help pharma companies make some modest bets on biotech ideas with big potential.
—John Maraganore, CEO, Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY). Maraganore runs the leading developer of RNA interference drugs, which has recently revamped its strategy. While Alnylam made its name in the last decade by striking lucrative deals with Big Pharma partners who were enticed by the broad potential of its technology, those partners have scaled back. Alnylam is now zeroing in on developing its own drugs for several rare liver disorders.
—Kevin Starr, partner, Boston-based Third Rock Ventures. Starr is one of the key drivers at Third Rock, which has raised about $800 million since 2007 to bet on some of the most innovative startups the industry has seen created in the past five years. Starr, who rarely makes public appearances, will offer some special insight into the various models Third Rock is employing to start companies based on cutting-edge biology. He’s also either the best or worst dressed biotech venture capitalist you’ll ever meet. He promises to show me where he buys his designer T-shirts the next time I’m in Boston, but I’m not sure I can pull off the look.
—Kathy Glaub, president, Berkeley, CA-based Plexxikon. Glaub was a key architect of one of biotech’s breakout success stories of 2011. Plexxikon used a strategy of partner early/partner often in the early 2000s, which wasn’t in favor at the time. But it enabled Plexxikon to raise a relatively small sum of venture capital, which paid off in spades when it was acquired by Daiichi Sankyo for as much as $935 million.
—Carl Weissman, CEO, Seattle-based Accelerator. Weissman is one of the local biotech leaders who’s been thinking lately about how to evolve the Accelerator model when it’s harder to find venture capitalists willing to bet big on startups, even when they hit scientific milestones. We’ll pair up Weissman for a chat with Bard Geesaman, the chief scientist at Acylin Pharma, one of Accelerator’s young portfolio companies.
—Also from the local contingent, we’ll feature a chat between Thong Le, the managing director of WRF Capital, and Bruce Montgomery, the chief executive of Seattle-based Cardeas Pharma. Le invested in Montgomery’s prior company, Corus Pharma, but now they’ve had to go about things differently in setting up Cardeas.
—Carol Gallagher, the former CEO of Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, has a great story about how her company was able to stay on a tight budget and generate enough data to convince Gilead Sciences to pay as much as $600 million for a new cancer drug. We’ll hear from Gallagher about some of the lessons she learned there.
—Heather Franklin, the former chief business officer of Seattle-based ZymoGenetics, will be on hand to talk about her experience getting a new startup with technology from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Blaze Bioscience, off the ground without help from deep-pocketed venture backers.
—Steven Tregay, the CEO of Watertown, MA-based Forma Therapeutics, has been on a roll of late, striking four partnerships over the past 14 months. Those partnerships with companies like Genentech, Johnson & Johnson, and Boehringer Ingelheim have enabled Forma to build a 100-person drug discovery operation with capability to rival some Big Pharma companies, after raising the relatively small sum of $33 million in venture capital. And he’s experimenting with ways to pay off his VCs without having to go public, or sell the whole company.
—Last but not least, we’ll feature Brian Atwood of Versant Ventures and one of the key entrepreneurs Versant has backed in the past year, Peppi Prasit. Versant has structured a new incubator around Prasit called Inception Sciences, which will flesh out many of his new drug discovery ideas, and enable Big Pharma companies to buy them a la carte, without having to acquire all the administrative overhead that usually comes with biotech companies.
These folks will tell their stories in a series of fast-moving case studies and interactive chats (no PowerPoint). We will only have space for about 250 attendees at PATH, and I expect this event will sell out in advance of April 3. So I’d suggest getting your tickets early if you want to attend. As always, we are setting aside a limited number of discounted tickets for students and for people at startup companies with fewer than 20 employees. The super saver rate for everyone else will be available until Feb. 1.
This is one of the biggest and best events we’ve done the past four years at Xconomy Seattle, and one of two major public life science forums I’m planning for our region this year. I think this event could inject some great new ideas, and forge critical new connections for our local biotech community. I look forward to seeing you and many Xconomy readers there at PATH on April 3.
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