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Thong Le: Biotech Thoughts On Pitches, Prices, Diversity, And Stress

Xconomy Seattle — 

Thong Le is the CEO of Accelerator, a Seattle biotech venture fund and incubator more than a decade old. Le took over in early 2014 and is overseeing a cross-country expansion. A second Accelerator facility opened with fanfare in New York City a year and a half ago.

Le said at the time that Accelerator would choose and nurture its startups differently in coming years, mindful that its dozen participants have produced few returns (at least two sold off for parts, and one sold for an unspecified sum) or clinical successes. “You’ll see a very different level of discipline and focus around the type of deals we’re going to do,” he told Xconomy in summer 2014, when Accelerator announced a $51 million fourth fund and unveiled its New York plans.

Xconomy caught up with Le before the holidays to ask him a few end-of-year questions. (Answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Xconomy: What’s the most unlikely startup pitch you’ve heard since you joined Accelerator? Did it work?

Thong Le: I heard a pitch for a technology that claimed that it could deliver electric current in a way to manipulate cells and therapeutically impact a variety of diseases: A wild idea with audacious claims and unfortunately thin data to back up the claims. It’s not clear if the technology actually worked at all, as I have yet to see the killer experiments that would verify the company’s claims.

X: Have you been sequenced? If yes, did you find anything interesting? If no, what would prompt you to do it?

TL: No, not yet. If the cost of whole genome sequencing continues to drop, I might re-visit whether I’d consider doing this.

X: Drug pricing will be a top issue in 2016. Will the noise actually lead to changes?

TL: I believe that the pharmaceutical and biotech industries need to do a better job addressing how the therapies we develop can justify the pricing being proposed. I would not be surprised to see bills proposed in 2016 that attempt either to cap the prices that can be charged for certain types of high-cost drugs, or to force drug developers to commit some portion of profits to support affordable care and access to medications.

X: Is the life science field moving fast enough to end the men’s club within C-suites and boardrooms?

TL: I think we are starting to see signs of change, but we still have a lot of work to do cultivating and encouraging greater diversity. We also need to do a better job mentoring women and minorities who are interested in the life sciences, and to show them a viable path to leadership and professional growth.

X: How do you make time to think these days?

TL: When I am really stressed out I try to take a short walk to clear my mind and bring focus back into what I am working on.

[Editor’s note: Heading into 2016, we asked our guest contributors and Xconomists for their thoughts on a series of questions. You can see more questions and answers here.]