Kyn to Ikena: The Art and Science of Rebranding

This blog was written by Mark Manfredi, CEO of Ikena Oncology, and guest blogger Maude Tessier, CBO, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

When we started to think about changing our company name, we knew it wasn’t something to take lightly — changing our brand and outward facing image was a big deal!  Several companies rebranded over the last few years and built successful biotech companies, some publicly-traded (e.g., Translate Bio, Aimmune); nevertheless the process as well as the ultimate messaging seemed tricky and important to have a solid grasp on and plan for.  We considered changing our name last year and decided to hold off, preferring to wait for a more ideal time.  We built some brand recognition following our January 2019 Celgene (now BMS) alliance, which included the AHR antagonist and kynurenine degrading enzyme (“Kynase”) programs, but we were still a young

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Ode to Patients 

This blog was written by Samantha Truex, CEO of Quench Bio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Due to meetings in London on a Friday and in Dortmund on the following Monday, I spent the weekend in London.  As I walked the streets appreciating its history, I could not help but think of the history of medicine, as well.  Images of leeches and bloodletting in Tudor times came to mind.  Imagine being a patient back then.

I feel fortunate to live in current times when modern medicine has improved diagnosis and treatment dramatically over the past centuries and even in the last 2 decades.  I won’t bother to quote statistics proving that; there are too many to account for what we all know.

We read and assess statistics about patients every day in our industry.  What I sometimes forget to do Continue reading “Ode to Patients “

 Leave No Stone Unturned: A Pipeline Story

This blog was written by Deanna Petersen, CBO of AVROBIO (@dmp9818), as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Building a leading gene therapy pipeline in under two years (and a lot of air miles): how to persevere and make the calls that matter.

Throughout a career in business development I’ve sat at every seat at the negotiating table, but I count my experience building AVROBIO’s leading lentiviral vector (LV) ex vivo gene therapy pipeline as perhaps my most satisfying and extraordinary time in biotech.

These last few years have underscored the awesome scope of the science that’s incubating in labs all around the world, waiting for the right team to develop and advance. My experience has also made me reflect on how much this business ultimately runs on relationships. Fortunes can (and do!) change dramatically with a single phone call.

AVROBIO: “COUNTRY WHEN COUNTRY WASN’T COOL”

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Early Company Evolution – People, Pipeline, and Purse

This blog was written by Mark Manfredi, CEO of Kyn Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

“Time flies when you’re having fun.” That’s how I feel as I reflect on the first three years of the growth of Kyn Therapeutics. So much has happened since my R&D colleague Michelle Zhang and I moved into the seed space at Atlas Venture (see photo below of our cozy abode) to begin work on Kyn. As a first-time scientifically-trained biotech CEO, I assumed it would be similar to leading a project team in pharma – after all, the company started with only one asset!  Turns out it’s more complex, and there have been many twists and turns along the way.  While you can change focus from day-to-day, no area can be neglected, and don’t even think about choosing the wrong wine for a Board of

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Navigating The Unknown: Practical Thoughts On A Team That Can Rise To The Occasion

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

One of the joys of building a company is that meeting one’s milestones routinely places us in positions that are new, where past experience may not be a guide.  Our ability to navigate growth is highly dependent on building a team that’s ready to take on increasing complexity.

The stakes are high: get it right and the ability to parallel process and pivot grows exponentially; get it wrong and risk not being able to rise to the occasion when it’s needed most.  In a fast moving environment, it’s also not always practical nor optimal to bring in outside experience to handle new challenges. As such, finding a team that can grow with you is an important skill. Unfortunately, this trait is not well measured quantitatively and Continue reading “Navigating The Unknown: Practical Thoughts On A Team That Can Rise To The Occasion”

Goldilocks And GMP

This blog was written by Aoife Brennan, CEO of Synlogic Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

New therapeutic platforms, like those based on cell and gene therapy, provide potential to address diseases in new ways and hold tremendous promise for alleviating human suffering.  Despite this, progress often reaches a critical juncture when attempts are made to scale manufacturing from research to late-stage clinical trials and commercialization.

The Synlogic platform is based on applying the tools and principles of synthetic biology to rationally engineer non-pathogenic bacteria to perform a therapeutic function that may be missing or impaired due to disease. All of our programs to date have used the same ‘starter strain’ or chassis, a well-studied probiotic called E coli Nissle or EcN. Being an E. coli, EcN grows rapidly in a fermenter and has been manufactured as a probiotic for commercial use which Continue reading “Goldilocks And GMP”

Tips for Industry-Academia Collaboration

This blog was written by Samantha Truex, Atlas EIR and CEO of Quench Bio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Some of the most promising and innovative research underlying biotech start-ups arises in research institutions.  It is often with those very institutions that we can best collaborate to advance such innovations.   Academic researchers are insightful scientific advisors in new areas of biology and are poised to assist in important, thoughtful breakthroughs in ways that contract research organization (CRO) researchers sometimes are not.

That said, interacting with researchers in academic institutions is quite different from setting up research with a CRO.  Whereas a CRO almost always operates on a fee-for-service basis with a timeline and intellectual property (IP) rights accruing to the client, academic researchers are generally working on several areas of investigation in parallel and have institutional mandates to share their research findings. Continue reading “Tips for Industry-Academia Collaboration”

Of Microbes And Men

This blog was written by Aoife Brennan, CEO of Synlogic Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

I am the CEO of Synlogic, a synthetic biology company, where the focus of our work is the development of medicines using engineered bacteria.

I love the science of what we do; it is challenging, innovative and has the potential to make a really big impact for patients. I am also challenged by issues related to organizational development; a topic of frequent discussion among CEOs.

Over the past few months, I have started to see parallels between lessons we have learned in the lab and discussions that would occur in the corner office, if I had an office. I will frequently sit in discussions poring over the most recent batch of data with the scientists when an issue that seems unrelated suddenly becomes clearer. I try to keep my

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SPR994:  A Long Shot, With Lots Of Twists And Turns To Phase III

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

At Spero we are privileged to be enrolling our pivotal study for SPR994, our oral antibiotic with the bacteria-killing power of an IV to treat patients with serious urinary tract infections.  A frightening sign of our deteriorating antibiotic arsenal is the three million patients in the US alone whose infections do not respond to oral antibiotics used in past decades; if these patients are hospitalized they can cost an average of $4,000 more to treat than if an effective oral agent were available.  In this era of a value conscious health care system, there are few interventions that are more cost-effective than getting patients out of the hospital or keeping them out. SPR994 could provide the tool to make this happen.

We tell the Continue reading “SPR994:  A Long Shot, With Lots Of Twists And Turns To Phase III”

Targeted Protein Degradation Comes of Age

This blog was written by Nello Mainolfi, CSO and co-founder of Kymera Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Translation of well validated biology into therapeutics remains one of the biggest challenges of modern drug development, in many cases due to lack of appropriate technologies to drug well credentialed biological targets. Examples in this category include driver oncogenes such as MYC, b-catenin and STAT3; catalytically active scaffolding kinases such as IRAK4 and RIPK’s or proteins whose accumulation is associated with well-established pathology such as alpha-synuclein in Parkinsons’s Disease or Tau in dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Over the past decade, several new drug discovery technologies have been proven successful in overcoming some of the challenges of traditional small molecules therapeutics. One of the most successful modalities, therapeutic antibodies have allowed us to target cell surface and circulating proteins, very specifically, with high degree of affinity and most

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A Decade of Discovery

This blog was written by Jeb Keiper, CEO of Nimbus Therapeutics LLC, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

It is with great excitement that we at Nimbus are ringing in our 10th birthday this month. It’s been a momentous decade of ups and downs, many of them chronicled in dozens of posts here on LifeSciVC. At 10 years and still going, we’re proud to have reached a milestone that only about 10% of startups achieve.

We are using this 10th birthday as a time to look back on how well Nimbus has carried out its founding principles and to look ahead – as we define our vision for how the next decade of Nimbus should look. So, first, to revisit where we came from…

“Project Troubled Water”

The idea for Nimbus started kicking around in 2008 after Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture met Ramy

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Maybe It’s Innate

This blog was written by Samantha Truex, Atlas EIR and CEO of Quench Bio, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Recently I read the article What’s Wrong With Me? that I saw re-posted on Twitter.  It’s a 2013 New Yorker article chronicling one woman’s journey through years of multi-symptom autoimmune/autoinflammatory disease with undiagnosed and untreated maladies.  It’s a long read, but one that I could not leave unfinished as I thought about my multiple friends who followed similar paths for years, each trying to understand what caused her symptoms.  Amongst my close friends are one with multiple sclerosis, one with ulcerative colitis, one with lupus and two with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).  Their diseases are given these titles that imply crisp definitions, but these are heterogenous diseases with overlapping symptoms, so they are difficult to diagnose and treat.  I’ll come back to

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Why Reputation Is More Important Than Ever For Biotech Companies … And What You Can Do About It

This blog was co-written by Deanna Petersen, Chief Business Officer of AVROBIO, and Paul Newman, head of Corporate Communications, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation, and five minutes to ruin it,” Warren Buffett said, and added “If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” In biotech, a strong reputation is difficult to build, is even harder to establish quickly, and can be easily tarnished. So, what’s the landscape and what should we do about it?

Reputation has always been significant.  Today, reputation is increasingly important because trust in institutions and companies is being eroded in the U.S. and around the world.

On top of the general rise in emphasis on company reputation, the building and management of reputation is especially challenging for biotech companies because:

  1. Volatility is par for the course in the biotech

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Sheer Heart Attack: What Happens When Your Partner Gets Acquired in The Middle of Negotiations

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

Every morning before I go to work, I review my calendar for the day. This gets me into the right frame of mind and helps me set my priorities. On Thursday, January 3, 2019, I reviewed my schedule and saw that I had a clear calendar: dermatologist appointment, management team meeting, and nothing else.

My schedule was light because I had cleared my calendar a few days before. I knew what was coming and I needed free time to work. We were in the last steps of completing a major research collaboration with Celgene covering two of Obsidian’s lead programs for use in CAR-T therapies. We were finalizing the agreements and were aiming to announce the deal at JPMorgan in a few days.

On that Thursday, I was awaiting

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Cats And The Future Of Machine Learning In Drug Discovery

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

The predictions around the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) have been broad reaching but it’s clear that not everyone is convinced (here and here) and the trajectory of the current AI hype cycle feels downwards.

In this blog, I want to make the case that artificial intelligence (AI) will make a significant difference in drug discovery over the long run but it’s important to see AI like other big industry shifts such as the genomics revolution of the early 2000’s.  Incremental changes over time lead to big and even transformational impacts. Today there are structural constraints in descriptors, data and algorithms that are limiting the role of AI but in the longer term innovation in these areas will enable real impact.  Overall,

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If You Build It, Will They Come? Addressing The Value Equation

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

Over my experience building several therapeutics companies, I’ve sometimes observed a Field of Dreams approach to therapeutics: if we build it, they (patients, health system, payors) will come.  Last month’s hearing in Congress on pharmaceutical access, and the overall debate on how to pay for new therapies drives home that adoption of a therapy doesn’t always naturally follow an approval. Articulating the value of each therapy we deliver to the health care system is a critical complement to all of the clinical data we generate to maximize the likelihood that our innovations get to patients who need them.  @LifeSciVC also drives this home in his excellent year in review.  

When’s the right time to think about value?

For those of us developing emerging therapies

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Keep Calm and Carry On: How to Survive an FDA Inspection

This blog was written by Aoife Brennan, CEO of Synlogic, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

It was apparently random, although I secretly suspect it was karmic punishment for my lack of imagination in writing the 2019 quality goal. It has been ‘Maintain the quality management system and documentation in inspection-ready form’ for the past 3 years. While we take quality and regulation seriously, our assumption, like that of many early-phase companies, had been that an actual FDA inspection was several years off. I had previously been involved in pre-approval inspections and the questions regarding early studies were always the most difficult to piece together; the team who ran the study had moved on or the asset was in-licenced. For this reason, we had invested in making sure we had a good filing structure from the start and were maintaining the appropriate documentation. It now appeared

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Leave A Ladder Down

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

In May 2007, I trekked to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. Situated at an altitude of over 17,000 feet, Base Camp is the starting point for an ascent of the world’s highest mountain. The first feature on the climbing route is also the deadliest: the Khumbu Icefall. The Icefall is a frozen waterfall that cascades for more than two miles in length – and 2000 feet in height – from a spectacular hanging valley known as the Western Cwm to a point just a few minutes’ walk from the tents at Base Camp. At half a mile wide, you can’t go around the Icefall: you have to go through it.

The Khumbu Icefall is an especially formidable barrier to aspiring summiteers because of its imperceptible yet relentless downward

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All A-Board

This blog is written by Samantha Truex, Atlas EIR and CEO of a stealth-stage biotech, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

In a 2014 analysis  of biotech boards and a reprise analysis in 2016, Bruce Booth worked with life science recruiter Catalyst Advisors on this board talent blog. They estimated the demand for talent at >600 biotech Board Director spots needing to be filled in the few years following October 2016.

A critical question posed by Bruce and Catalyst Advisors was, from where will the talent come?   This issue is not unique to biotech.  According to Spencer Stuart’s 2018 board report on S&P 500 boards,  428 new directors were appointed to S&P 500 boards during the 2018 proxy year, the most since 2004.  So the search for talent to fill board seats is vast.

In the original post, Bruce stated, “When I’ve brought this

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Predicting The Next Dominoes to Fall in 2019

This post was written by Michael Gladstone, Principal at Atlas Venture, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Today I will continue my time-honored January tradition of an optimistic blog post providing some bold predictions for the year ahead.

I will focus on areas where we are finally on the cusp of long-awaited breakthroughs. Of course, this is an incomplete sampling of ongoing innovation, and I mean no offense to anyone’s work that I have left out. And I promise to avoid obvious, evergreen predictions, like “The amyloid beta hypothesis will continue to stir debate!”

KRAS inhibition will produce clinical responses.

KRAS is a holy grail oncology target. It is the most frequently mutated driver oncogene and has long been considered “impossible” to drug. But “impossible” only means, “Even Tom Brady hasn’t done it yet.”

Several companies are advancing direct inhibitors of the KRAS

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