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Latterell Thinking: Ken Widder, Latterell Venture Partners’ Man in San Diego, on Early Stage Life Sciences Investing

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in San Diego’s Evoke Pharma, Femta Pharmaceuticals, and Meritage Pharma. He also moved onto the board of Luminous Medical, replacing Laterell partner Steve Salmon at the Carlsbad, CA-based company developing continuous blood sugar monitoring technology. He tells me he also discussed Latterell’s decision to invest in Seattle’s HemaQuest and Calistoga Pharmaceuticals, recent deals that were led by Latterell partner Jim Woody, who now sits on those boards.

“It’s been a great deal for the firm,” Widder says. “My office is in San Francisco, and I go up once a week for partner’s meetings. I look for deals whether they are in San Diego or elsewhere.” While there is a West Coast tilt to the firm’s venture investments, Widder says, “We aren’t geographically constrained. It’s just a matter of practicality.”

I met Widder for coffee recently; our discussion was prompted by Latterell’s participation in a $6 million investment round (joined by Domain Associates and Windamere Venture Partners) in Evoke Pharma, which is developing drugs for gastrointestinal diseases. In our wide-ranging conversation, I gleaned these highlights:

—Latterell, which is currently making investments from its third fund, has about $350 million under management. While the firm invests generally in a variety of biotech, biomaterial, diagnostic, and device companies, Widder says about half of each fund gets invested in drug development startups and the other half in medical devices. “We’re early stage investors,” Widder says. “Generally we lead or co-lead our deals. The vast preponderance of our deals are Series A rounds.” Latterell’s investments in Calistoga and HemaQuest, though, were later-stage deals. “We’re looking for exciting technologies that serve unmet medical needs, or that stand out as best-in-class drugs,” Widder says.

—Even though Latterell is focused on making early stage life sciences investments, Widder says the firm follows a traditional venture model. With just five partners, Latterell doesn’t usually take management positions in the companies it helps create. “We’re active board members,” Widder says. “I have extensive operating experience and we bring a lot of practical talent to our companies, but we don’t take active management roles.”

—At a time when many seed-stage biotechs are turning to … Next Page »

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