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Key for Houston’s Biotech Ecosystem? Building a Bench of Executives

Xconomy Texas — 

Life sciences leaders have lamented that one part missing from the biotech ecosystem in Texas is a robust community of executives who know how to turn good ideas into profitable businesses. In Houston, Fannin Innovation Studio has set out to fill that gap.

“If you are in Boston, you already have a management team nearby to harvest it, and venture capitalists ready to fund it,” says Atul Varadhachary, Fannin’s managing partner.

Houston—and Texas in general—instead lacks such a bench of experienced executives capable of building large, successful life sciences and medtech companies.

Not that they don’t exist, Varadhachary is quick to acknowledge. Houston has had some notable biotech entrepreneurs, including Jeff Sheldon, who founded and sold Idev to Abbott in 2013 for $310 million, and Nancy Chang, who sold her 20-year-old company Tanox to Genentech in 2006.

But “many of our innovations die,” Varadhachary says, because the number of high-caliber executives is too few.

Or, if those innovations don’t die, they relocate. The most recent example is Codiak BioSciences, a biotech company that seeks to exploit exosomes for their diagnostic and therapeutic potential. The firm was formed with investments from Flagship Ventures and Arch Ventures Partners, among others, and based on research from Raghu Kalluri, chairman of cancer biology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who is studying how exosomes can act not just as delivery vehicles for waste but also for a variety of drugs. But Codiak CEO Doug Williams and his management team are all in Cambridge, MA—and that’s where the young biotech is being headquartered.

Bruce Butler, vice president of research and technology at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, agrees. “Candidly, the greatest shortage that we have in our ecosystem is a shortage of CEOs,” he says.

Ann Tanabe, chief executive officer of BioHouston, agrees. But she says she expects those numbers to rise. Namely, she cites the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, which gives grants to young cancer-focused biotech companies and scientists

“The CEOs are … Next Page »

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