Float Like A Butterfly: Agility In Biotech

This blog was written by Jonathan Montagu, CEO and co-founder of Hotspot Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.  

In the quest towards building high-performing teams, biopharma can lift a page from the tech playbook around agile organizations.  This blog builds upon comparisons with tech relating to business model, investment returns and the dynamics of the different VC ecosystems.  In this post, I would like to draw lessons from how tech startups actually work and organize themselves.

One of the most dominant themes in tech is Agile software development, an approach that has been adopted by all of the most successful startups around the world.  Agile involves creating a simplified piece of software that is then iterated rapidly through input from real customers.  Iterations are generally short – typically one to four weeks – and are aptly called ‘sprints’.

On its

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Farewell to Zafgen: A Personal Reflection On Board Evolution

Today, Zafgen announced my resignation from their Board of Directors after 12 years of service.

It’s a bittersweet moment for me: having been there since the beginning, I’ve watched, and supported, the Zafgen story through all the ups and downs that a dozen years can bring. My partners and I at Atlas Venture remain significant investors and supporters of Zafgen and its mission; my departure has nothing to do with a lack of enthusiasm, and my partner Peter Barrett remains Zafgen’s chairman.

But it’s time for me to sign off to focus on other startups in our portfolio and the “day job” of investing in new ideas; in fact, this board resignation is actually the first time I’ve left a Board of a portfolio company that wasn’t an “exit” event for Atlas. Importantly, Boards, like the companies they represent, have to evolve over time.

Before sharing a few thoughts on

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Biotech CEO Pay: Inflation Held At Bay

The private biotech sector is awash in capital today: funding over the last few quarters has been record-breaking, up over 250% since 2013, as biotech CEOs have worked hard to strengthen their companies’ balance sheets.  But in the process of filling up their corporate coffers, have they also filled up their own wallets?

To examine this question, I worked with Jody K. Thelander and her team at J. Thelander Consulting, a compensation data and consulting firm, and explored their recently completed 2018 Private Company Compensation survey dataset.  Several interesting findings worth noting.

First, as you might expect during the journey of a startup, the total cash compensation (base salary plus target bonus) for biotech CEOs goes up in a remarkably linear fashion as companies raise more capital – up until they approach public company CEO compensation. Here’s the latest 2018 data:

Second, over the past 6-8 years,

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Trains, Bicycles, And Business Development

This blog post was written by Ros Deegan, CBO of Bicycle Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

It’s heresy to write this but it’s trains not bicycles that come to mind when describing our partnering strategy at Bicycle Therapeutics. We’re looking to speed Shinkansen-style towards our goal of being an integrated oncology company while monetizing the platform and building an engine for future growth in additional diseases. We can only do this by establishing partnerships both inside and outside of our core therapeutic area. Partnering outside of your core expertise can be challenging since you are pitching early-stage data from your lead therapy area, the relevance of which may not be immediately apparent. Despite these constraints, we’ve stayed on the tracks by applying four key principles:

  1. Seeking foundational patent protection so we can approach potential partners from a position of strength;
  2. Identifying areas of high
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New Directions In Alzheimer’s Disease Research And Development

This blog was written by Adam Rosenberg, CEO of Rodin Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Disappointing results in Alzheimer’s clinical trials seem to be announced on an almost monthly, and sometimes weekly basis:

Unfortunately, these are just a few examples…there are many more.

If there is a silver lining to so much crushing disappointment, it’s this: We can learn from prior clinical development attempts, most of which were undertaken by highly qualified researchers and clinicians, based on good-faith data.

Further, new biology and chemistry ideas are moving forward, new preclinical and clinical tools are being developed and validated, and recent regulatory announcements suggest an understanding of the unique challenges in Alzheimer’s clinical development.

Translational Tools

Early and mechanistically relevant biomarkers are critical to breakthroughs in neuroscience, as I argued in my February 2016 blog post, Are We Poised

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Right From The Beginning: Returning To The Origins Of The Orphan Drug Movement

This blog was co-written by Doug Kerr, Head of Preclinical Research & Clinical Development, and Geoff McDonough, CEO, both of GenerationBio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Our industry stands at the beginning of the most significant opportunity to impact genetic and metabolic disease we have ever encountered – the ability to decisively intervene in the perinatal period with therapies capable of lifelong transformation.  To fully seize this opportunity, we must act with urgency to bring the benefits of the Orphan Drug Act to its youngest intended beneficiaries…

The world has changed dramatically for patients suffering from rare genetic diseases. Since the Orphan Drug Act of 1983, there have been 590 drug approvals for orphan diseases compared to only 10 in the prior decade.  Thanks to the enormous scientific advances associated with the human genome project, drugs approved under the Act target the underlying

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Another Trophy Quarter For VC-Backed Biotech Funding

The flood of capital continues to pour into the private biotech ecosystem, marking the current climate as the most prolific period of investing into the sector of all time.

The first three months of 2018 secured yet another “biggest quarter ever” trophy for the sector, hitting nearly $4.7B in funding.  This is the third such quarter in a row, which prompted a similar post on the “Boom or Bubble” last fall. Here’s the last 40 quarters of private biotech funding, according to Pitchbook.

The staggering funding comparison is that in 2012 and 2013, during the opening of the IPO markets, the entire US-based biotech venture sector over those full years invested roughly the what we did in just the current quarter (1Q 2018), around $4.5B.  That’s a 3-4x increase in capital.

As I’ve noted in the past, the source of this new wellspring is

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Little by Little: Real Life Lessons In Business Development

This blog was written by Tariq Kassum, COO and Head of Corporate Development at Obsidian Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Experience can be a tough teacher. Over the last two decades as a biotech investment banker, investor, pharma business development executive, and now company entrepreneur I’ve built up my fair share of deal-related scar tissue. However, for my first LifeSciVC post today, I’ll share three key lessons that I was lucky enough to learn in a completely pain-free fashion. Plus, I’ll provide some thoughts on how you too can accelerate your learning in a way that doesn’t leave visible marks.

First, some background: I trained as a medical doctor but then moved to the business side of healthcare – originally as a biotech investment banker, then as a healthcare stock analyst. In 2009 I left Wall Street and started working for Millennium/Takeda, where I

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Life After ECHO-301: Lessons Learned About Modulating IDO/TDO To Treat Cancer

This blog was written by Mark Manfredi, CEO of Kyn Therapeutics and former Atlas Entrepreneur-in-Residence, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC. 

Last week we learned about the failure of the much anticipated ECHO-301/KEYNOTE-252 trial that studied the IDO inhibitor epacadostat in combination with pembrolizumab in advanced melanoma. The results were a surprise to some, anticipated by others, and either way a bad outcome for IDO1 inhibitors, Incyte, and others heavily invested in IDO inhibition as a therapeutic approach. More significantly, it was a disappointment for cancer patients and their families looking for the next generation of immunotherapies to improve patient outcomes.

ECHO-301 was designed as a follow-on confirmatory phase 3 study of a phase 1/2 single arm combination trial which demonstrated encouraging overall response rates and a progression free survival (PFS) superior to pembrolizumab alone in an equivalent patient population (based on historical data). Despite

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Caravans of Biotech Immigrant Executives

Recently there’s been talk of a caravan of immigrants marching towards the United States, principally focused on Mexico and Central America.  But there’s also another caravan, this one at work in the biopharma business: the long term migration of science and technology professionals into the US-based biopharma ecosystem.

This caravan is critical if we are to successfully tackle the myriad of health issues that plague humanity: scientific exploration and drug R&D are global enterprises. In the words of MassBio president Bob Coughlin, “The greatest minds from around the world made this industry what it is and it will take the greatest minds globally to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s, and the hundreds of diseases impacting human health.”

Biotech leaders have been vocal in the past about DACA and other immigration issues (here).  Seven biotechs showed the impact of immigration on their workforce last fall with these fantastic

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Two Really Big Fish That Got Away

Like all avid fly fishermen, I can recount many stories about the big ones that got away. The same goes for my experience in venture capital… as I’ve certainly missed some big ones.

With the acquisition of Juno Therapeutics by Celgene, and the recent approval of Agios’ first medicine for AML, it’s a great time to reflect on those two… because they are two giant fish that got away.

Openly talking about massive winners that you actively passed on investing in brings some risk, but an honest acknowledgement of one’s “anti-portfolio” is an important step in recovering from the trauma of totally screwing up. So here’s my inside baseball of both big misses.

Cancer Metabolism Therapeutics (Agios Pharmaceuticals)

In the spring of 2007, Vicki Sato, then an advisor with Atlas, introduced us to Michael Su, a former Vertex scientist, who was the initial entrepreneur pulling together a startup

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Just a Little Patience: In-licensing from Biopharma

This blog was written by Samantha Truex, an Atlas Entrepreneur-in-Residence, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

People who know me well will agree that patience is not one of my personal virtues.  That said, I recognize that certain circumstances in business development call for following the sage advice of Axl Rose: All we need is just a little patience.

I was working for Mike Gilman at Padlock Therapeutics when he wrote The Art of the In-License  here.   Mike offered experienced insight on what it takes to identify that an in-licensing opportunity exists and the often-arduous process one must weather to complete it. At the time of Mike’s blog, we had just finished that long process of licensing intellectual property from GSK.  Having driven that effort and multiple others like it over the years, I’ll add a few thoughts on the subject.

Mike referenced

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Beyond the CEO: Building An Effective Leadership Team  

This blog was written by Ankit Mahadevia, CEO of Spero Therapeutics and Atlas Advisor, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

 

The biotech twittersphere recently engaged in very thoughtful debate (resulting in a great piece by @lifescivc) about age, training, and other qualities that link a CEO to an organization’s success. It’s a critical topic, but in my opinion only one dimension of the conversation since nobody can develop drugs alone.

My view, formed from leading later stage and early organizations and observing several in the boardroom, is that the best measure of CEO leadership is the team he or she recruits and how they work together.  Truly great organizations should and will become more complex than any one individual’s ability to dig into it all. As such, the team and culture that a CEO builds to manage this complexity now and for the future are

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Allostery: Realizing The Promise

This blog was written by Jonathan Montagu, CEO of Hotspot Therapeutics and Atlas EIR, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

It starts off with flu-like symptoms and progresses to a perpetual low-grade fever, excessive sweating and loss of appetite.  A physical exam reveals a grossly enlarged spleen while basic blood work uncovers white blood cell counts between thirty and sixty times normal levels.

Historically, patients with CML would live only three to five years, during which time the disease would quickly transform from a chronic leukemia to an aggressive and fatal acute leukemia.  Thankfully, CML became the poster child for targeted cancer therapy, as molecules designed to specifically target the ATP-binding active site of Abl1 led to approval of imatinib Gleevec® in 2001.  CML patients now enjoy roughly 84% ten-year survival.  With peak sales of $4.6B, Gleevec was so successful

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Celebrating Rare Disease Day

Today we recognize and celebrate #RareDiseaseDay to raise awareness of rare diseases and their impact on patients’ lives.

Nearly 1 out of 10 Americans lives with a rare disease – more than 30M people in the United States.  NORD has documented over 7000 rare diseases, from uncommon cancers to monogenic disorders to complex syndromes.  And children are more than half of those affected by rare diseases.

Although we’ve seen approvals for more than 650 drugs for rare indications since the passage of the Orphan Drug Act in 1983, much work needs to be done to advance more medicines for these conditions.  To it’s credit, the FDA has announced a number of new initiatives to facilitate rare disease drug development.

On Rare Disease Day, our collective focus is on the patients and their families whose lives are affected by rare diseases.  And we recognize their courage in participating in research

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Grey Hair In the C-Suite: Experience, Age, And IPOs In Biotech

Biotech venture investors often prefer to back executives and entrepreneurs with a bit of grey hair. Seasoned industry veterans that possess leadership charisma along with years of experience, and the oft-accompanying learned judgement, are highly sought-after in biopharma’s seemingly endless war for talent.

Earlier this month, I tweeted about how talent was the biggest constraint in biotech. I highlighted that the number of VC-backed startups in biotech remained constrained (relatively flat for years) despite huge increases in aggregate funding flows, and that this was caused by talent bottlenecks rather than limits on ideas or capital. The pool of executives/entrepreneurs with both demonstrated leadership skills and bona fide R&D/BD expertise is very limited.

This observation unleashed a storm on Twitter: I was apparently exhibiting rampant age-ism and ignoring the return-generating exuberance of youth; it was evidence that a biotech VC cartel actively keeps young people out; hedge funds apparently try to

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Grey Hair In the C-Suite: Experience, Age, And IPOs In Biotech

Biotech venture investors often prefer to back executives and entrepreneurs with a bit of grey hair. Seasoned industry veterans that possess leadership charisma along with years of experience, and the oft-accompanying learned judgement, are highly sought-after in biopharma’s seemingly endless war for talent.

Earlier this month, I tweeted about how talent was the biggest constraint in biotech. I highlighted that the number of VC-backed startups in biotech remained constrained (relatively flat for years) despite huge increases in aggregate funding flows, and that this was caused by talent bottlenecks rather than limits on ideas or capital. The pool of executives/entrepreneurs with both demonstrated leadership skills and bona fide R&D/BD expertise is very limited.

This observation unleashed a storm on Twitter: I was apparently exhibiting rampant age-ism and ignoring the return-generating exuberance of youth; it was evidence that a biotech VC cartel actively keeps young people out; hedge funds apparently try to

Continue reading "Grey Hair In the C-Suite: Experience, Age, And IPOs In Biotech"

Two’s Company, Three’s Diversity

This blog was written by Ros Deegan, CBO of Bicycle Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Two years ago, Bloomberg Business published a feature entitled At Biotech Party, Gender Diversity Means Cocktail Waitresses. Within three weeks of publication, more than 200 individuals had signed a letter urging the biotech industry to stop hiring models at business cocktail parties. I appreciate that signing this letter wasn’t a direct commitment to improve gender diversity. But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to assess each of the signatories’ companies against a higher gender diversity metric to see if this talk translated into action.

Let’s be clear from the start that my methodology is flawed (I stepped out of the rigors of science and into the pliability of business early in my career). I focused on biotech companies where a quick internet search would reveal a list

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Bringing The Human Element Full Circle Thru Adaptive Ski Coaching

My experience as an adaptive ski coach has been nothing short of life-changing. I don’t say that with hyperbole. By bringing together my passion for the mountains with my profession as an investor in biomedical therapies, adaptive coaching completes the circle for me – by focusing on the most important of life’s elements: the human element.

Last year was my first year as a volunteer coach with a wonderful organization at Loon Mountain and Bretton Woods called New England Disabled Sports, which provides over 3000 lessons to student-athletes with disabilities of all types. Exactly a year ago, after reflecting on the start of my inaugural season, I shared six important themes that resonated with me – and continue to do so – around helping conquer the mountains by embracing a can-do attitude, changing one’s context to unleash new strengths, sharing the thrill of the slopes, fostering greater confidence in

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When Does Digital Health Become Just Healthcare?

This blog was written by Adam Rosenberg, CEO of Rodin Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.  

In 2015 I went to both the JPMorgan and CES conferences, back to back, and attended numerous can’t-miss dinners, receptions and parties.  It was also hard to miss the contrast between the consumer healthcare technology landscape in Las Vegas – focusing on splashy displays of wearable devices and such – with the deal-focused biopharma landscape in San Francisco.

Much has already been written on the 2018 version of both events, and the potential overlap of digital health and drug development.  For an excellent overview, see David Shaywitz (here).

Progress is certainly evident over the last three years, as highlighted in my previous digital health posts, focused on digital health in clinical trials (here), and the convergence of consumer devices and clinical applications (here).  Tremendous potential

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