When Amicus Therapeutics’ (NASDAQ: FOLD) stock tanked a few months ago following a regulatory delay for its lead drug, CEO John Crowley promised there would be some business development moves coming to raise some cash. The Cranbury, NJ-based company followed through this morning, striking a deal with Biogen Idec (NASDAQ: BIIB) on a preclinical program for Parkinson’s Disease.
Amicus today signed a collaboration deal with Biogen to discover, develop, and commercialize small molecule drugs to treat Parkinson’s by targeting an enzyme known as glucocerobrosidase (GCase), which researchers believe may be implicated in the disease. Neither party disclosed the total value of the deal, but under it, Amicus and Biogen will work together to identify small moleucles targeting the Gcase enzyme. Biogen will cover all of the discovery, development, and commercialization costs (assuming a drug ever wins approval from regulators and hits the market), and reimburse Amicus for paying the full-time employees that work on the project. Amicus stands to collect certain unspecified development and regulatory milestones, and “modest” royalties on net sales of any drugs that come from the collaboration.
Amicus’ shares were up about 18 percent in pre-market trading Tuesday.
The deal gives Amicus a new potential way to earn revenue a few months after it told investors it would delay filing a regulatory application for its Fabry Disease drug, migalastat Hcl, feeling that it needs to complete two ongoing Phase 3 trials before it seeks FDA approval. Amicus’ shares tumbled more than 20 percent on the news, but Crowley insisted that the company was “trading time for certainty,” in that Amicus would rather wait a year or two thinking that it has a much better shot of getting the green light from regulators. He then said that Amicus had already been in discussions about partnerships, mentioning the Parkinson’s program—as well as another wholly-owned program for Pompe Disease—as potential bait for deals. Amicus, at the time, had enough cash to get it to the end of 2014, but was looking at ways to add to that total without diluting its stock.
This is the second deal for Biogen in two days, meanwhile. It just paid Carlsbad, CA-based Isis Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ISIS) $100 million up front and will potentially shell out as much as $320 million total to develop neurology drugs using Isis’ antisense technology.Comments | Reprints | Share:
You hear a lot about the Series A funding crunch for startups these days. But just as telling, maybe even more so, is the Series B crunch. And the Series C crunch.
For New England tech startups, there’s a fair bit of seed funding going around—and growth capital, too—but less money seems to be flowing to the middle, into the fledgling companies that are trying to become, well, real companies.
That’s all anecdotal—and so is this counterpoint. Paydiant, a Wellesley, MA-based mobile payments startup, has just raised a $15 million Series C round led by an unnamed strategic investor (who’s also a customer). The 70-person startup’s previous investors—StageOne Ventures, North Bridge Venture Partners, and General Catalyst—also participated in the round, along with another unnamed customer. The deal brings Paydiant’s total raised to just under $40 million since its founding in 2010.
The new cash in the bank elevates the company—for better or worse—into the echelon of some of Boston’s biggest venture-backed technology bets. And that’s just fine with Chris Gardner, Paydiant’s co-founder. “You need gas in the tank to get anything done” in mobile payments, he says. (The sector is going through its own crunch at the moment.)
Paydiant makes a software platform that helps banks and retailers—mostly banks so far—add capabilities in mobile payments, offers, and rewards to their own apps. For example, a financial institution can put a payment button inside its existing mobile-banking app. The startup’s white-label approach is in contrast to the Googles, Squares, PayPals, and ISISes of the world, which offer branded mobile-payment systems that ultimately make money from transactional data and advertising.
“We and our customers are very into the notion of creating a neutral, shared platform,” Gardner says. “We’re providing them with a platform where they can own and operate that experience and keep that data under their control.”
In other words, a bank with millions of mobile users would much prefer to keep those users (and their data) in its own banking app if possible. Same with big retailers. That’s Paydiant’s advantage.
The flip side? A major player like PayPal has 100 million-plus users and lots of data and leverage. Meanwhile, Paydiant must keep winning over corporate customers, and has to wait (like everyone else) for retailers and other businesses to come around to mobile payments. “When you’re white label, you depend on the success of your partners,” Gardner says. “You don’t 100 percent control your own destiny.”
Nobody has it easy in this sector, of course. Plenty has been written about the ongoing challenges of mobile payments and wallets in gaining adoption. But Paydiant thinks its own behind-the-scenes approach will help it ease into mainstream use without relying on any new technology, new apps, or disrupting customers’ business as usual.
Paydiant’s Gardner, who seems ever patient, admits that things will take a while to shake out. Right now even the term “mobile wallet” can mean lots of different things, he says. For a financial institution, it’s about mobile banking. For a restaurant, it might be about placing orders in advance. For other businesses, it could be about any number of mobile commerce features.
“We’re a space in search of something better,” he says.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Biogen Idec has been working with Isis Pharmaceuticals on neurological disorders for a while, and today it’s making an even bigger bet on the company and its antisense technology.
Weston, MA-based Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), the world’s largest maker of multiple sclerosis drugs, said today it has agreed to pay $100 million upfront to Carlsbad, CA-based Isis (NASDAQ: ISIS) under a six-year collaboration to develop neurology drugs using Isis’s antisense technology. Under this deal, Isis stands to collect further milestone payments worth as much as $220 million for successful antisense drug candidates, plus license fees and royalties on drugs developed through the collaboration. Biogen said it plans to use Isis’s antisense technology in the lab to help build out its pipeline of drug candidates, which could be small molecule chemical compounds, biologic drugs, or antisense molecules themselves.
The partnership is the kind of thing Isis has long strived for as an antisense R&D focused operation that leans on partners for commercial help. It’s also a sign that Biogen has been happy with what it’s seen from Isis up close the past couple years. Biogen struck a deal in January 2012 to work with Isis on developing antisense treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, and followed up six months later with another partnership focused on a rare muscular disorder called myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1). The relationship further expanded that year with a research collaboration concentrated on making drugs against three molecular targets for neurological disorders.
“This strategic alliance with Isis builds on our existing relationship and combines the unique strengths of each partner to significantly advance the treatment of serious neurological diseases,” said Doug Williams, Biogen’s executive vice president of R&D, in a statement.
Shares of Isis climbed 11 percent to $31 at 10 am Eastern time. Isis management said it plans to discuss the collaboration in some more detail in a conference call with analysts at 11:30 am Eastern/8:30 am Pacific.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Biopharmaceutical companies are under a great deal of financial pressure these days, and many are tinkering with long established business models. There can be no doubt that the industry is in flux as a result of pricing pressures from insurance companies, changing patent regulations and expirations, healthcare reform, and an increased focus on proving significant clinical benefits. Sadly, this is all taking place at a time when the largest biopharma companies have developed a black eye as a result of a seemingly endless series of ethical transgressions, including off-label drug promotions, hidden clinical trial outcomes, bribes and kickbacks for writing prescriptions, manufacturing breakdowns, and lawsuits tied to numerous medicines pulled off the market.
Have things really changed since the good old days in the industry? One notion that I heard voiced recently by industry consultant Bernard Munos is that some of pharma’s recent missteps (specifically, a decline in innovation) result in part from the fact that scientists are no longer leading these organizations. According to Munos, the old model was to turn scientists loose to follow their wide-ranging passions and interests, and innovative discoveries would come rolling out. This model was replaced about the mid 1990s by one where a culture of process was introduced by new leaders that focused company scientists in directions where innovation was desired, but where the science at the time was not necessarily up to the challenge.
One must be careful in interpreting how the term “leadership” is used; some use it to denote the person holding the CEO position, whereas others use it to mean any job where a person actually influences a company’s approach and decision-making. In addition, added complexity results when one attempts to compare traditional Big Pharma companies with biotechs, which I think are more likely than their much larger brethren to be run by PhD or MD scientists. David Shaywitz weighed in on this subject and suggested that company size may be a more important determinant of success in this industry than a CEO’s background, although he has identified a number of caveats as well. One of these is that luck can be mistaken for competency, at least in the short term, no matter what the CEO’s background is.
Neither of the thought pieces cited above included any significant data as to the backgrounds of past and present Big Pharma CEOs. This got me wondering if having a scientist leading a Big Pharma company really correlated with success in years past? Has the percentage of scientists who headed up these companies decreased in recent years, and if so, is this associated with pharma’s recent struggles? I set about answering these questions by looking up the biographies of the titans who ran this industry during a period when it was the envy of Wall Street, as well as more recent years when it has labored to find its footing. Let me share with you what my efforts revealed.
I decided to look back over a period of 30 years, since that should cover periods of huge profitability (80s and 90s) as well as more recent challenging times when these companies were merely highly profitable. CEO tenures vary widely, so I simply focused on identifying the CEOs that were heading these companies at the start of each decade. It wasn’t easy digging out their names and especially their academic degrees (if Google only covered the pre-Internet era in the same detail as more recent years!) It took time, but I was able to collect some background information on a reasonable sample size of these men (and they were all male) and assembled it into the table below. It shows who the CEOs were as well as their highest degree(s) achieved and the institutions that awarded them. Science and medicine degrees are highlighted in bold.1980 1990 2000 2010 Merck John Horan, JD, Columbia John Horan, JD, Columbia Ray Gilmartin, MBA, Harvard Richard Clark, MBA, American U. Roche Irwin Lerner, MBA Rutgers Irwin Lerner, MBA, Rutgers Franz Humer, MBA, Innsbruck Dr. of Law, Insead Severin Schwan, Dr. of Law, Innsbruck GlaxoSmithKline Austin Bide, BS, Chemistry, London University Charles Sanders, MD, Southwestern Medical College JP Garnier, PhD, pharmacology, Louis Pasteur University. MBA Stanford Andrew Witty, BA, economics Novartis pre-merger Ciba-Geigy Sandoz pre-merger Ciba-Geigy Sandoz Daniel Vasella, MD, University of Bern Joe Jimenez, MBA, University of California-Berkeley Bristol-Myers Squibb Richard Gelb, MBA, Harvard Richard Gelb, MBA, Harvard James Cornelius, MBA, Michigan State University Lamberto Andreotti, masters in engineering, MIT AstraZeneca Ulf Widengren, Astra Hakan Mogren, Astra, ScD in applied biochemistry, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. PhD in technology, Royal Institute Tom McKillop, PhD in chemistry, Glasgow University David Brennan, BA in business administration, Gettysburg College Amgen (not Big Pharma, a control) George Rathmann, PhD in chemistry, Princeton Gordon Binder, MBA, Harvard Kevin Sharer, MBA, Pittsburgh Kevin Sharer, MBA, Pittsburgh Pfizer Ed Pratt, Jr., MBA, Wharton William Steere, Jr. BS in biology, Stanford Henry McKinnell, MBA, PhD business administration, Stanford Ian Read, BS in chemical engineering, Imperial College London Eli Lilly Richard Wood, MBA, Wharton Richard Wood, MBA, Wharton Sidney Taurel, MBA, Columbia John Lechleiter, PhD, organic chemistry, Harvard Johnson & Johnson James Burke, MBA, Harvard Ralph Larsen, BA in business administration, Hofstra Ralph Larsen, BA in business administration, Hofstra William Weldon, BA in biology, Quinnipiac University Sanofi Jean-Francois Dehecq, engineering graduate of Ecole Nationale des Arts et Metiers Jean-Francois Dehecq, engineering graduate of Ecole Nationale des Arts et Metiers Jean-Francois Dehecq, engineering graduate of Ecole Nationale des Arts et Metiers Chris Viehbacher, commerce graduate of Queens U (Ontario, Canada), and a CPA. Abbott Laboratories Robert Schollhorn, BS in chemistry, Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science Duane Burnham, BS in accounting, University of Minnesota Miles White, MBA, Stanford Miles White, MBA, Stanford Novo Nordisk Knud Hallas-Moller, doctorate in pharmacy, University of Copenhagen Mads Ovlisen, lawyer and MBA, Stanford Lars Rebien Sorensen, MSc in forestry, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark Lars Rebien Sorensen, MSc in forestry, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Denmark
My overall impression: I see no evidence of a trend towards the replacement of CEO scientists with MBAs and lawyers over the past 30 years. There were plenty of law and business degrees held by CEOs in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. One issue I was not able to fully resolve was the exact subject of the engineering and technology degrees held by a number of these CEOs. These are clearly science degrees, but one might view the relevance (in the context described above) of a degree in chemical or bioengineering as distinctly different from one in mechanical or civil engineering. Non-scientists have always held a majority of the top leadership jobs in pharma in years past, just as they do now.
Perhaps the pharma companies that were acquired during this timeframe were more innovative and were headed by scientists, thereby leading to their acquisitions? This idea didn’t hold water either. I looked up other 1990 CEOs and found lawyers [American Home Products’s John Stafford, JD, George Washington U.; Schering Plough’s Robert Luciano, JD, U. Michigan], another business degree [American Cyanamid’s George Sella, MBA, Harvard], as well as pharmacists [Warner Lambert’s Joseph Williams, BS Pharmacy, U. Nebraska); Syntex’s Paul Frieman, BS Pharmacy, Fordham] and a chemist [Upjohn’s John Zabriskie, PhD Organic Chemistry, U. Rochester]. A mixed group once again.
Considering that this industry is focused on treating human diseases, at first glance it appears striking that there are so few leaders with biology … Next Page »Comments (3) | Reprints | Share:
Biotech venture capitalists, as a group, haven’t had much to cheer about the past few years. But this is shaping up to be the year the storyline changes, thanks to the ripple effect from the biotech IPO class of 2013.
The story of biotech venture capital over the past few years, as many readers know well, has been mostly about struggle. Many firms haven’t been able to scrape out returns, and they’ve reacted by grasping for new investment models, pushing partners out, veering into other sectors, or shutting their doors. The historic shift, which came about a decade after the genomics bubble, left only a few firms with the desire and capability to make the edgiest, riskiest, and potentially most innovative investments in life sciences.
It’s still too early to say that biotech VCs have climbed all the way back into the saddle just because of a string of quick IPOs. But it is clear that the firms who stuck it out during the tough times, and continued investing in innovative fields, are in a position to be rewarded and to keep doing what they do for a long time.
For those of you who took long summer vacations and missed some of the action, this has been the busiest year since 2000 for biotech IPOs. Altogether, 32 biotech companies have debuted on the public stock markets so far this year, and another 12 are waiting in line, depending on how strictly you define “biotech.” It’s a big development for an industry that is more used to seeing 10-12 companies go public per year. Every time one of these companies goes public, it creates an opportunity somewhere down the line for early investors to cash out, and collect rewards for all the risk they shouldered for years.
So which firms are standing in line to reap the benefits of the IPO boom? Here’s a quick rundown I put together from a review last week of SEC filings.Venture firm # of biotech IPOs in 2013 Portfolio Companies That Went Public Fidelity Investments & related entities 5 KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, Stemline Therapeutics, Bluebird Bio, Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals, Agios Pharmaceuticals MPM Capital 5 Epizyme, KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, Portola Pharmaceuticals, Aratana Therapeutics, Conatus Pharmaceuticals [Updated 9:33 am ET to include Conatus] NEA 3 Epizyme, Omthera Pharmaceuticals, Prosensa Arch Venture Partners 3 Receptos, Agios Pharmaceuticals, Bluebird Bio Flagship Ventures 3 Receptos, Tetraphase Pharmaceuticals, Agios Pharmaceuticals Celgene 3 Epizyme, PTC Therapeutics, Agios Pharmaceuticals TVM 2 Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Bluebird Bio Delphi Ventures 2 PTC Therapeutics, OncoMed Pharmaceuticals Brookside Capital 2 Portola Pharmaceuticals, PTC Therapeutics Pappas Ventures 2 Chimerix, Liposcience Alta Partners 2 Chimerix, Esperion Therapeutics Domain Associates 2 Esperion Therapeutics, Regado Biosciences Third Rock Ventures 2 Bluebird Bio, Agios Pharmaceuticals
Before getting all carried away, it should be made clear that while all of these firms have reason to feel good about future paydays to come from these IPOs, they can’t count the money yet, and start bragging about 5x or 10x returns. Part of that is because most venture backers are bound by a “lockup” period which legally bars them from selling their shares in a newly public company until it’s been trading for awhile, usually 180 days.
A lot can happen in the markets in 180 days (Syria, anyone?) which is one way of saying the market could crash and all these theoretical gains that look good on paper today may not be there tomorrow.
What matters more, Seidenberg says, is whether this IPO boom is sustained for at least a year. If so, that will enable the VCs to turn some of that paper value of today into hard cash returns of tomorrow.
In Kleiner’s case, real returns have come in from one of its investments that went public last year—Waltham, MA-based Tesaro (NASDAQ: TSRO). It still has to wait and see how big its returns might be from Epizyme (NASDAQ: EPZM), its one current member of the 2013 IPO class. Kleiner will have to wait a little longer than that to see how things pan out for a couple current IPO hopefuls—South San Francisco-based Five Prime Therapeutics and Cambridge, MA-based Foundation Medicine. And the firm will have to wait even longer to find out about the prospects of three or more portfolio companies that are evaluating their IPO possibilities, Seidenberg says. “We’re feeling good about where we are,” she says.
It’s certainly true that the final numbers aren’t in yet, and it’s never good to count chickens before they hatch. But the IPO surge has already created … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
[Updated, 8:15 a.m. ET] Labor Day has come and gone, and that means one thing: football season is finally upon us. But before the pigskins start flying en masse on Sunday, make sure to catch up on all your East Coast biotech news below:
—Many drugmakers have tried, and failed, to find ways to protect the famous tumor suppressor known as p53, which gets shut down by every single form of cancer. Even so, Cambridge, MA-based Aileron Therapeutics thinks it that may have a chance to reverse that trend. I spoke with Aileron CEO Joe Yanchik about the company’s plan to make a stapled peptide—or, a fused combination of protein fragments—that would simultaneously hit proteins made by two genes that deactivate p53. It plans to begin testing that drug in people with solid and liquid tumors, and a variety of different cancers, in an early-stage clinical trial next year.
—Beverly, MA-based Enzymatics has spent the past seven years piling up cash making enzymes for companies and research institutions that sequence DNA. It has now agreed to put as much as $50 million of that money to work to make its first acquisition, snaring Boulder, CO-based startup ArcherDx. Enzymatics’ plan is to offer diagnostic tests in addition to the enzymes it already sells to its customers, but it has a long way to go—ArcherDx was just formed in January, and will release the beta version of its first product test fall.
— Forest Laboratories (NYSE: FRX) veterans John Simon and Daniel Kreisler started up Marlborough, MA-based Acton Pharmaceuticals in late 2009 with the help of Sequoia Capital, and that move paid off when Sweden’s Meda swooped in to acquire the company. Meda is paying $135 million up front, and potentially another $65 million in additional payments that could bring the deal to $200 million total. Acton has two respiratory drugs nearing the market: an inhalable corticosteroid for asthma called flunisolide HFA (Aerospan), and triamcinolone acetonide (Nasacort FHA), a spray for nasal allergies.
—Fresh off raising $26.6 million to help push its cancer drug, entinostat, into a Phase 3 clinical trial, Waltham, MA-based Syndax Pharmaceuticals has cut another deal to fatten up its wallet. Syndax has given China’s Eddingpharm rights to market and sell entinostat in China and certain other Asian countries, and—assuming the drug hits the market in those countries—will get a royalty stream and unspecified milestone payments. Eddingpharm is backed by Princeton, NJ-based venture firm Domain Associates.
—Cambridge-based Bind Therapeutics inched closer to the Nasdaq, revealing the expected range of its previously announced IPO. Bind plans to offer 4.7 million shares to investors at between $14 and $16 apiece and raise a total of about $71 million. At $15 per share, Bind would be worth $237 million.
—[Updated with new item] Cambridge-based Acceleron Pharma followed in kind early Friday, setting the range for its own IPO. Acceleron aims offer investors 4.65 million shares at between $13 and $15 apiece.
—Monmouth Junction, NJ-based Tris Pharma won FDA approval of a long-acting, liquid version of a hay fever drug known as carbinoxamine maleate in April, and this week, it handed that drug’s rights over to FSC Laboratories. Tris, whose business model is to reformulate pills into liquids while maintaining their efficacy, stands to collect up to $20 million in milestone payments from FSC, and a “significant” double-digit royalty percentage on net sales of the drug.
—Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: CBST) tapped Wall Street to pay for its big buyouts of Trius Therapeutics and Optimer Pharmaceuticals. The antibiotics maker issued two series of notes that could bring the company as much as $800 million total. The Trius and Optimer deals could cost Cubist as much as about $1.6 billion if certain milestones are met.
—Cambridge, MA-based ZappRx raised $1 million in seed funding led by Atlas Venture’s Jean-Francois Formela and Ryan Moore, Life Sciences Angel Network, Hakan Satiroglu, and others. The company is creating a smartphone app that enables doctors to e-prescribe drugs directly to their patients.
—The National Institutes of Health has awarded Watertown, MA-based Enanta Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ENTA) another $9.2 million to fund preclinical and early development of an antibiotic it is developing for anthrax, the hospital superbug known as MRSA, and other bacteria. Enanta first signed a contract with the NIH in 2011, and has now received a total of $23.5 million in funding from the agency to date.
—Cambridge-based Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: INFI) has named David A. Roth its senior VP of clinical development and medical affairs. Roth previously spent more than 10 years at Wyeth and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE).Comments | Reprints | Share:
Beverly, MA-based Enzymatics has grown into a 100-employee company in seven years thanks to the rapidly evolving use of DNA sequencing machines. Now, it’s taking some of the cash it has hoarded away to make its first acquisition: a nine-month-old startup named ArcherDx.
Enzymatics is announcing today that it has snapped up the Boulder, CO-based company in a deal potentially worth up to $50 million. ArcherDx will get cash, Enzymatics stock, and potential milestone payments tied to revenue targets the combined company must hit over the next three years. That represents a big haul for ArcherDx, which its CEO, Jason Myers, says was founded just nine months ago with the help of less than $1 million in angel funding. Myers, a former scientist at Ion Torrent Systems, will become Enzymatics’ chief scientific officer as part of the buyout. He says that the combined company will keep ArcherDx’s R&D site in Boulder up and running with a staff of about 15 to 20 people.
The deal is meant to ultimately turn Enzymatics into a company that makes diagnostic tests based on certain genetic mutations. Today, it makes most of its money by supplying chemical reagents to big DNA instrument companies like Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN).
“Now we have the ability to move up the value chain, where we’re not just providing raw tools,” says Enzymatics president and CEO Jonathan DiVencenzo.
Enzymatics was co-founded in 2006 by Stephen Picone and Cristopher Benoit, two scientists with two decades of experience manufacturing enzymes. Their idea was to craft an efficient, cheap process for producing the enzymes that are used to help researchers prepare the biological samples that are analyzed by genomic sequencing machines. Enzymatics’s selling point was to make enzymes that are cheaper, and deliver them with a higher degree of purity. By producing enzymes that are cleaner—free of contaminating DNA that can muck up the biological sample—sequencers can avoid generating false results.
“Traditionally, companies providing enzymes were not really looking for this level of purity,” DiVincenzo says.
So far, Enzymatics has found enough believers to make it work. According to DiVincenzo, Enzymatics raised just over $1 million from a group of angel investors led by Keswick Ventures upon its founding in 2006, became cash flow positive in its first year, and has been able to fund its operations with its own cash flow ever since. It booked $25 million in revenue in 2012, and expects to bring in more than $30 million this year, DiVincenzo says. About 80 percent of all DNA sequencing that occurs in academic and industrial labs today utilizes the company’s reagents, DiVincenzo says. Enzymatics sells its reagents to companies like Illumina and Life Technologies, research institutions such as Harvard University, and other entities that incorporate those reagents into their own assays.
That growth has freed up Enzymatics to buy ArcherDx, which is developing assays for specific genetic mutations—initially, those implicated in lung cancer, according to Myers. The idea is to use the reagents made by Enzymatics to create assays that are cheaper, produce results quicker than the ones on the market today, and present the results—either the patient has a genetic mutation or not—clearly.
“Physicians don’t want to be down in the weeds of all the data, they want to say does this patient have a particular mutation, and if so how do I treat it,” he says.
Enzymatics plans to sell those kits to anyone with a DNA sequencer—big companies, research institutions, and others—to drive down their costs. But it has some work to do to make this happen. ArcherDx was just formed in January by Myers and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital—it’s going to release its first beta version of a reagent kit at certain sites later in the fall, and will begin selling it to researchers early next year. The company estimates it’ll take a few more years after that to build up the credibility to have a fully validated companion diagnostic. And it knows given the size of the players in the market, and how fast it’s evolving, every second counts if it’s really going to make an impact.
“Speed to market is paramount,” DiVincenzo says.Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
We’ve hit the time of year dreaded by all public radio fans: pledge drive season, when stations hold your favorite NPR and American Public Media programs hostage until enough listeners pay up.
Until recently, there’s only been one way around this semiannual torture ritual, and it’s only been available to listeners of KQED here in the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s the pledge-free stream, a password-protected online version of the station’s programming that’s available to listeners who give $45 or more.
But now there’s another way to enjoy a radio-like stream of news and information shows, without pledge drives, at any time of the year—and at zero cost (to users, anyway). It’s a smartphone app called Swell, from the Palo Alto, CA, startup Concept.io.
You can think of Swell as your own personal NPR station, or perhaps as the Pandora of news and talk. Yes, that’s an analogy I’ve used before, in a January article about the on-demand radio app Stitcher. But Swell has adopted a set-it-and-forget-it approach that makes it even more consciously Pandora-esque than Stitcher. It’s like turning on your favorite public radio station, and letting little software-driven station managers inside your phone worry about the exact content you’ll be served.
When you start up Swell—which is available only for iOS devices at the moment, but is coming to Android soon—it automatically picks a program from the Swell catalog based on your past listening behavior. (The catalog isn’t drawn just from NPR—it’s also heavy on programs from APM, TED, the BBC, Disney/ABC, Fox, and Bloomberg.) If you like the app’s selection, you can keep listening until it ends, at which point another show will start. If you don’t like it, you can swipe left to skip straight to the next program.
Over time, as the app observes which shows you listened to and which you skipped, it gets better at picking stuff you’ll like. (Yes, this is exactly the sort of mechanism that screens out anything that might jostle your existing world-view; Upworthy co-founder Eli Pariser has called that the filter bubble problem. But let’s face it, public radio is pretty uniformly lefty to begin with. And hey, you can always get Fox.)
This play-or-skip model is more or less how Pandora works too, but because Swell is about ideas rather than music, the technology under the hood is fundamentally different, says G.D. “Ram” Ramkumar, CEO and co-founder at Concept.io. Oakland, CA-based Pandora (NASDAQ: P) has built a huge “music genome” database to identify the traits of the songs and artists you like, on the theory that you’ll also like other songs with similar traits. Swell, by contrast, relies on algorithms from probability theory related to the multi-armed bandit problem and a strategy called “exploration and exploitation.”
It’s too complicated to explain here, but it boils down to tracking your listening patterns and identifying the program choices that best predict your preferences. There’s also an element of old-fashioned collaborative filtering, in the mold of Amazon or Netflix recommendations. For example, if you liked This American Life, and other people who liked TAL also liked The Moth Radio Hour, Swell knows you’ll probably like The Moth too.
“This notion of picking the source that helps the most, and combining that with an element of collaborative filtering, is new technology that didn’t exist before Swell,” says Ramkumar. “The point is, as you continue to listen, it understands and learns at the level of programs, topics, and genres.”
Here’s a cute video that Swell produced to explain the whole thing. (Article continues below video.)
Concept.io released Swell in late June. So far, according to Ramkumar, it’s being used mainly by people who are running or exercising with earbuds, or commuting in their cars while playing the audio stream over their vehicles’ Bluetooth audio systems. Those happen to be the exact scenarios the company had in mind when it built the app, he says: “It’s about making productive use of your time, and staying engaged in the time you are driving and exercising.”
Ramkumar’s previous company, Snaptell, also built a consumer app: a visual product scanner that used computer-vision algorithms to identify products from cameraphone snapshots. Amazon bought the company in 2009 and incorporated the technology into an augmented-reality app called Flow. Ramkumar spent a while at Amazon’s A9 research operation as “chief architect for visual search,” then went on to an entrepreneur-in-residence position at Charles River Ventures, where he started looking for another area of consumers’ daily lives that he could help to improve through mobile technology.
“We settled on the commute as the critical time period,” Ramkumar says. “If you want to listen to music, there are good alternatives, but if you don’t, there are limited choices. There is the choice of searching TuneIn or iTunes, but search is not convenient when you are driving.”
After abandoning a couple of early experiments—such as a text-to-speech engine that recited Wikipedia articles based on nearby landmarks—Ramkumar’s team turned its focus to … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
This is the story of a student, a mentor, a school, and a startup. Together they highlight the ways in which recruiting and talent development at New England companies have changed over the past decade.
Bart Flaherty was an undergrad at Northeastern University. His major was communication studies, but halfway through he started taking computer science classes and got hooked. He ended up minoring in the subject, which he found very challenging and practical. Plus he loved the logical, analytical aspects of programming.
Nearing graduation last year, he heard about Boston Startup School—since renamed Startup Institute—through a friend of a friend. Working at a startup has become a fairly established career path out of school, he says, though it’s still not the norm.
Flaherty was part of the inaugural class of Startup Institute, which runs eight-week programs designed to prepare students for working at startups. The classes cover software development, product design, marketing, and sales—but, as usual, the people you meet are what’s most important. “I found it to be very valuable for networking,” he says.
One of his classes was taught by engineers from Swipely, a software startup in Providence, RI, that makes payment and analytics tools for businesses. The lead instructor was Anthony Accardi, Swipely’s head of engineering. Accardi, an MIT alum, came from Tellme Networks, the Silicon Valley high-flyer that was bought by Microsoft for $800 million in 2007. He teamed up with fellow Tellme veteran Angus Davis to help start Swipely in 2009.
In class, Flaherty worked on a potential feature for Swipely—a landing page to drive customer interest from restaurants or spas. He grabbed coffee with Accardi in Kendall Square, and by then their interview was basically over. “There’s no clear separation between what we work on in the office versus the workshop versus doing an interview,” Accardi says. “We want to give as pure a taste of what it’s like to work at a startup. To acquire and attract the best talent, you create an environment and see who gets really charged up.”
Flaherty joined Swipely as a software engineer, and in the past year he says his “professional development has skyrocketed.” That’s in large part because he was thrown in with the rest of the 13-member engineering team and expected to contribute right away, working by himself and with a more senior developer.
“We don’t say, ‘Bart is the new guy on the team, so he gets the safe project or the thing that doesn’t really matter.’ No, everyone’s the same,” says Accardi.
Is the flat-organization approach simply a function of working at a startup versus a big company? Surprisingly, Accardi says no. “I think a lot of the startups do play it more safe than they otherwise could,” he says. “As a startup industry, how much are we holding back?”
In Accardi’s view, there was a big shift in mentality … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
Dragon Innovation, one of the key players in Boston’s new wave of hardware entrepreneurship, is showing off some early success with its new crowdfunding website.
The site went live today, and two of the initial projects—which range from high-tech to basic tools—are hits with customers after just a few hours.
Tessel, a microcontroller with add-on sensors that can be linked to the Web, exceeded its $50,000 goal Thursday morning, tapping into a crowd of developers and tinkerers who want to control real-world devices.
Ollie, a credit card-sized steel or titanium tool, was about to reach its $1,000 goal as of noon. Ollie boasts metric and standard hex-nut wrenches, a spoke wrench for bikes, a straightedge ruler and protractor, and bottle opener, among other features. It’s made by Wayland, MA-based Onehundred.
There are several other projects in the initial batch for Dragon Innovation, including a Bluetooth- and wifi-based wearable baby monitor built into a onesie and a device that makes tablet-based text jump around so treadmill runners can read more easily.
Dragon Innovation is also offering Pebble smartwatches, which are on sale elsewhere for the same $150 price (including the Best Buy down the street from my office). Pebble is already one of the biggest crowdfunding success stories out there, raising millions of dollars on Kickstarter to pay for its production runs.
Instead, the offer is a little thank-you to Dragon Innovation, which helped Pebble get its device built overseas. That’s where this story gets a little more interesting—Dragon Innovation, founded by early iRobot executive Scott Miller, is a manufacturing consultancy that lends its expertise in working with Chinese companies to up-and-coming hardware startups.
The new crowdfunding site is a way for Dragon Innovation to get its clients some early financing and market-testing, without handing over that part of the process to outside companies like Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Miller, also a partner in the Boston hardware accelerator Bolt, does note that Dragon Innovation clients who use the crowdfunding site aren’t locked into using his company if they get enough money to build their project.Comments | Reprints | Share:
We are currently enjoying a much needed resurgence in the biotechnology industry. The industry has been the best performing sector in the stock market for the last two years and it appears it will be again this year. This performance has enabled companies to raise capital, either publicly or privately, in record amounts. We expect the industry to raise more than $4 billion this year. The performance of the stock of companies that have executed initial public offerings is quite impressive. The average stock prices of the 23 life science IPOs through July are up over 50 percent from their offering price (on average) with only four trading below their offer price.
We have seen this enthusiasm before. When Genentech went public in October 1980, the stock rose from $35 a share at the offering to $89 per share in the first hour of trading. Likewise, when the New York Times ran an article in 1998 discussing the emerging field of angiogenesis and the possibility of curing cancer in a short time frame, the biotechnology sector benefited in a very positive way. The completion of the human genome project at the beginning of the last decade is another example of a time point when investor enthusiasm was high which enabled the industry to raise significant capital.
Since the extraordinary success of the current bull market will probably not last forever, we as an industry, need to prepare ourselves for a pullback at some point. When the markets have paused in the past there were many companies that traded below their cash or had less than one year of cash in the bank which amplified the downturn in the sector.
Given the better capitalization of the industry and the extraordinary advances in the scientific underpinnings of the sector during the last decade, it makes sense to examine the lessons learned the last time the industry and stock market took a pause. These are some observations from past history and some steps that companies may want to take to prepare for when the markets are no longer at all-time highs:
1. Focus on Cash Management: We often have been too lax … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
Updated 4:50 pm
Startup partnerships, acquisition deals, fundraising, and little bit of innovation-sector politics to catch up on:
—RunKeeper is popping up on another smartwatch. The Boston-based fitness-tracking app, which has built its brand primarily on smartphones, is one of the first apps being made available on Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear device. The smartwatch communicates with the company’s Note 3 smartphone, meaning RunKeeper users can keep track of their progress without pulling out their phone during a run (or hike or bike ride). RunKeeper also was one of the first independent apps available on the Pebble smartwatch.
—Network security firm Arbor Networks has acquired Packetloop, a Sydney, Australia-based security analytics company. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Arbor said it plans to expand the Packetloop operations in Sydney. Arbor is a Burlington, MA-based unit of Danaher, the technology conglomerate that purchased the company in 2010. Arbor specializes in helping big businesses thwart DDoS attacks on their IT networks.
—Norwalk, CT-based data backup company Datto has raised a $25 million growth equity round led by General Catalyst Partners, the company’s first venture funding since its founding in 2007. Datto reported 2012 revenue of about $25 million, which it said marked four straight years of 300 percent annual sales growth. The General Catalyst investment is the first for former VMWare CTO Steve Herrod since he joined the firm early this year.
—Charlie Baker, most recently an entrepreneur-in-residence at General Catalyst Partners, is planning another run for Massachusetts governor. Baker, a Republican, came in second in a crowded 2010 race against Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick, who is not seeking another term. Baker announced his candidacy Wednesday. He was previously CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and also served in the administrations of Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci. [Added this item.]Comments | Reprints | Share:
I have written about the platform eco-system trend in technology recently. To recap, a business that has been gaining ground in the tech world is the technology platform developer network model, wherein large numbers of developers can use the platform to build their businesses cost-effectively without the handicap of huge infrastructure expenditure. Some of the better-known illustrations of this trend are Apple’s iOS, Salesforce.com’s Force.com and Google’s Android, which provide developers the necessary tools to build and release their apps rapidly.
This model is now seen in the Big Data and analytics segments as well.
One of the major platform players in the analytics space is SAP’s HANA development platform. SAP HANA is based on a columnar in-memory database that allows deep analysis while capturing fresh transactions in real time. Through its HANA Enterprise Cloud programs, it targets developers as eco-system partners.
At 1M/1M, we have a collaboration with the SAP Startup Focus program that is focused on startups developing on the HANA platform. One of the companies we’ve been working with, Approyo, gave us an opportunity to peek somewhat closely into the mechanics of the HANA platform and how startups are leveraging the platform and its eco-system.
Chris Carter, the CEO of Palo Alto, CA-based Approyo, shared with me some interesting vertical solutions that Approyo has developed leveraging the HANA platform. Chris has been in the SAP eco-system for nearly 20 years. Approyo is a SAP HANA value added solution provider focusing on developing predictive analytics applications for specific verticals. It has been providing HANA services for the past two years to customers in retail, oil & gas, manufacturing, healthcare, CPG, etc.
One of the solutions Approyo has developed that has broad applicability is in the domain of managing energy costs for hospital facilities. It brought about a 28 percent reduction for one hospital by considering various data sets—average energy costs, quarterly costs, patient days, housekeeping down to their cafeterias, maintenance, and repairs. All those have implications that can be used to understand the facility’s cost and the reason behind the spikes in particular periods. By deeply understanding and programming large data sets that impact energy consumption within the workflow of a hospital facility, this solution is now able to predict opportunities for cost optimization, as well as process changes that may lead to further cost reduction. (Related reading: Thought Leaders in Big Data: Chris Carter, CEO of Approyo.)
Based on their early success, SAP’s Startup Focus program promises to help sell Approyo’s energy optimization solution for hospitals to a much larger set of customers through the SAP channel.
There are other such vertical solutions that Approyo and other solution providers are developing on the HANA platform. For SAP, the platform ecosystem model has contributed to a broad-based adoption of its platform across 25 industry verticals from life sciences (genomics), mining (predictive maintenance), and automotive (targeting promotions by dealership for instance) to sports and entertainment (player scouting and fan experience).
And for entrepreneurs like Chris Carter, it makes it possible to develop a cutting edge solution faster and much more efficiently without having to sustain high infrastructure, research, and development costs, as well as time-to-market disadvantages. Additionally, access to the channel of a large platform vendor partner is tremendously advantageous in bringing industry specific solutions to market.
I am very bullish on the platform eco-system trend, and am seeing faster adoption of the model up and down the technology value chain. Just in the last 3-4 months, I have talked to at least 30-40 executives in various technology companies who are developing platform ecosystems. They each consider the initiative to be a cornerstone growth strategy for their businesses.
It’s a great model that not only helps the platform vendors scale, but also helps startups build businesses rapidly, without having to build the entire stack of cutting edge technology.Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
A big EMC product announcement is a good excuse to get to know the company’s higher-ups.
Lord knows, I can’t keep up with the trade press and tech blogs that will dissect the data storage giant’s latest and greatest offering. But I can tell you about the man leading the charge today.
He is Eric Herzog, senior vice president of product management and product marketing. He worked at seven startups before joining EMC three years ago. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area but commutes to headquarters in Hopkinton, MA, getting most of his sleep on red-eyes.
OK, here’s the product news, announced from Italy this morning. EMC (NYSE: EMC) is rolling out a new version of its mid-tier VNX technology. This is EMC’s bread and butter—a unified storage platform encompassing hardware and software—and it is in arguably the most competitive sector in storage. It’s also the biggest and fastest-growing market segment.
In a nutshell, the new product uses flash storage and software around flash, as well as Intel multi-core processors, to make storage faster and more efficient for big customers. EMC has used flash in its mid-range products for several years, but with this iteration the hardware and software have been redesigned.
Herzog (pictured) calls the new VNX a “revolution of what we’ve been doing.” He also says it’s the biggest product launch in the past three or four years, possibly for all of EMC. “We’re in the lead already, and we want to extend our market share,” he says.
Some of that might be marketing bluster, but it’s clear this product line is crucial to EMC’s future as a leader in storage. “We’ve got a giant bullseye painted on our back,” Herzog says.
Since he comes from a long line of startups, I asked Herzog for his take on the competitive landscape—and who EMC worries about disrupting the market. “We need to fend off the $5-6 billion companies,” he says. “Mid-tier is critical to the company.”
Herzog, who says he’s been doing storage since 1985, has also logged time at IBM and Maxtor. Five of the seven startups he worked at were acquired. “You can really see, when you’re the guy being acquired, which guys get it and which don’t,” he says. “You can tell which guys blow it, and which acquisitions are a waste.”
One thing he learned from the startup world, he says (channeling his inner Andy Grove), is that “only the paranoid survive.” He adds, “If you get too big for your britches, you end up losing. The key is to make sure you keep that fire in your belly.”
EMC has done a good job of that, he says, but Apple might be the best example of the tech industry’s ups and downs. Back in the day, Herzog had a chance to join Apple but was concerned that the company was going under. Later, of course, it “came out of nowhere” and re-emerged as the world’s leading tech company with the iPhone and other smash-hit products. Yet today there’s uncertainty around its future. “Now it’s about Apple losing its magic fairy dust,” Herzog says.
The ultimate lesson for EMC? “Whether we acquire a technology or develop it, we have to make sure we’re meeting the business needs of the CIOs, whether it’s a global enterprise or Herzog’s Bar and Grill,” he says.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Before autumn arrives in full swing, let’s take a closer look at one of the biggest deals of the summer. I’m talking about Needham, MA-based Extreme Reach, a video-ad delivery startup, buying the TV advertising business of Digital Generation (NASDAQ: DGIT), based in Irving, TX, for $485 million in cash.
Here’s why the deal is interesting. One, Extreme Reach started in 2009 and has raised $60-some million in venture and private equity funding. Why would a private startup—even a fast-growing, profitable one—take on debt to buy out the majority business of a public company?
Two, the founders of Extreme Reach came from FastChannel Network, a video-advertising startup that was bought by DG Systems (which became Digital Generation) in 2006. Now they have turned the tables on their former acquirer and competitor. But why do that when integrating DG into Extreme Reach isn’t an obvious slam-dunk in terms of future revenues and profitability?
And three, the whole video-advertising sector is poised for upheaval. People have been talking about TV ad spending moving to online and mobile for years, but online and mobile are really only taking off now. So what role will Extreme Reach play as the titans of tech—think Google, Amazon, Yahoo—move deeper into video and begin to challenge the established TV networks?
To get some answers, I spoke with John Roland (pictured), the co-founder and CEO of Extreme Reach. He didn’t say anything earth-shattering, but if you read between the lines, this is one of the biggest bets in the tech sector—and one of the more unusual plays in recent memory.
First, his overall thoughts and reaction: “It’s definitely the minnow swallows the whale,” Roland says. On the buying-out-his-competitor front, he adds, “Sure, there’s an element of satisfaction. With that being said, the shareholder is what I’m focused on.”
The mechanics of the deal are straightforward, according to Roland. Extreme’s biggest investor, Spectrum Equity, is putting in up to $47 million more to help finance the deal. But the vast majority will be debt financing: J.P. Morgan and SunTrust Robinson Humphrey are arranging a $475 million term loan.
That’s a big debt, but Extreme Reach sees this as an opportunity to dominate the market quickly. Assuming the deal goes through by early next year—it needs to clear antitrust regulations, the SEC, and DG shareholders—the combined company will have 1,100 employees, based primarily in New York (the biggest office), Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston, and revenues of some $300 million, Roland says. Extreme Reach has about 230 people, prior to the merger, and is on pace for $61 million in revenue this year—with a run rate of $100 million by the end of the year, he says.
According to Roland, the challenge lies not in … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
Jack Gill went to northern California more than 40 years ago, becoming part of Silicon Valley’s formation.
He landed there in the late ’60s and founded Autolab, which pioneered the use of microprocessor-based instruments and computers for chromatography laboratory applications and was later acquired by Spectra Physics. In 1981, Gill co-found Vanguard Ventures, one of the Valley’s oldest early-stage venture capital firms.
His twin disciplines—electrical engineering and organic chemistry—gave him an understanding of both how the world runs and the basis of life, he says.
He also wanted to understand the characteristics that define modern-day entrepreneurship. He quizzed the successful entrepreneurs he had met over the years, collecting modern versions of the rags-to-riches stories written by Horatio Alger Jr. in the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. (Gill himself is a winner of the Horatio Alger Award for Distinguished Americans.) “The major factor here is ‘hungry,’ ” Gill says.
Gill’s own insatiable appetite to learn about entrepreneurship led him to academia, where he developed courses that he taught at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Davis, and other institutions. In 1999, he and his wife, Linda, formed the Gill Foundation, which focuses on educational projects, including those in entrepreneurship. Today, the native Texan has come home, and is the professor of the practice of entrepreneurship at Rice University.
I sat down with Gill last week to talk about Houston’s budding entrepreneurial ecosystem, who and what the “Goose Society” is, and how he put the just-in-time management philosophy to work in his wine cellars.
Here is an edited version of our conversation.
Xconomy: Why did you want to become part of the Rice academic community?
Jack Gill: By 2000, there was a new generation coming up, and I decided it was time to give back. I thought, What can I do with my Silicon Valley experience?
This course that I brought here, … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
Cancer biologists and drugmakers have tried, and failed, to find ways to protect a gene known as p53 for more than two decades, and for good reason: the famous tumor suppressor gets shut down in some form by every single known type of cancer. Yet an eight-year-old startup out of Cambridge, MA, named Aileron Therapeutics thinks it’s found a way to fight cancer by turning the tumor suppressor back on.
Aileron is attempting to develop a drug that is supposed to simultaneously hit proteins made by two genes, known as MDM2, and MDMX, that deactivate p53. This is more concept than reality so far: Aileron has only tested forms of a molecule, a “stapled” peptide, or fused combination of protein fragments, in preclinical studies. It won’t actually begin dosing an optimized version of the drug candidate in human patients until next year, and has many hills yet to climb. But by homing in on the proteins that affect p53, it is attempting a strike at one of the most well-known, yet largely untouchable pathways in cancer biology.
“At some point, everyone has taken a run at this target,” says Aileron CEO Joe Yanchik.
P53 is bound to the DNA in the nucleus, and has been named as the “Guardian of the Genome,” because it is the cell’s first line of defense. Its job is keep cell division in check, sense whether anything is wrong, and order the cell to commit suicide if it is. That’s the job of a “tumor suppressor.” When it’s deactivated—either by being mutated, or repressed by another gene—cells begin rapidly replicating. This process causes both liquid and solid tumors to form in every type of cancer. It’s no surprise, then, that pharmaceutical companies have burned through millions of dollars trying to develop drugs that can stop this from happening.
“If you could somehow re-harness that capability, you now have something that could be impactful across all cancers, and across all tissue types,” Yanchik says.
Both antibodies, and small-molecule drugs, however, haven’t been able to do it. Antibodies attach to disease targets on cell surfaces, so they can’t make it to the proper site. And while pharmaceutical companies have turned to small molecules, they aren’t big enough to rip apart the protein-protein interaction that causes p53 to shut down.
Here’s why. When a small molecule makes its way into a cell, it burrows into what Yanchik calls a “deep pocket,” or cavity, on the targeted protein. To reactivate p53, the pharmaceutical industry, he says, has exclusively used small molecules to attack MDM2, which is known to become overactive and switch off p53 to allow tumors to form. That target also has the deep cavity that makes it easy for a small molecule to slide into, and bind to it.
This is only getting half the job done, however. Another gene known as MDMX also goes haywire and helps deactivate p53, and has been ignored by the industry because its grooves are too shallow for a small molecule to latch on to, according to Yong Chang, Aileron’s vice president of biology and translational research. As a result, though the biology of p53 is well understood, no one, as of yet, has been able to find a way to completely switch it back on.
This is where Aileron is betting one of its stapled peptides can do the trick. These compounds are two protein fragments that are chemically “stapled” to one another, holding them in an alpha-helical shape—the common structure of proteins. This is supposed to make them not only travel through the system to the disease site without getting chewed up by enzymes, but also bind to more protein targets inside a cell than small molecules can—and more significantly in this instance, attach to two at a time. So Aileron thinks it can engineer a stapled peptide that is specially configured to bind to the deep grooves on MDM2 and the flatter ones on MDMX, which, it believes, would fully reactivate p53. In addition, by targeting the overactive proteins, and not p53 itself—which is found in all of the cells of the body—Aileron hopes such a drug would bypass healthy cells and only hit the ones with the malfunctioning genes. Aileron wants to tailor a drug towards the 50 percent of cancers in which P53 is functional, but deactivated by these proteins—so-called “wild type” p53—rather than the other 50 percent in which it’s mutated and defective, to increase its odds of success, according to Yanchik.
Aileron plans to test the drug in people with solid and liquid tumors, and a variety of different cancers, in an early-stage clinical trial that will get underway during the first half of 2014, he says.
While this means we won’t know for some time just how effective Aileron’s approach will be, a lot of pharmaceutical companies will be paying close attention. The program is part of the $1.1 billion partnership Aileron struck with Roche in 2010, and Aileron’s venture backers include a Big Pharma quartet of Roche, Eli Lilly, GlaxoSmithKline, and Novartis.
“People understand, starting with our existing investors, how important this could be,” Yanchik says.Comments | Reprints | Share:
I’ve lived in Dallas almost my entire adult life, but until this week I had never attended a city council meeting. The meeting started off with a bang as a woman dressed in traditional African costume (along with an accompanist on drums,) who serenaded Mayor Mike Rawlings just before she accused the sergeant-at-arms of “wanting” to rape her. Shortly after the entertainment concluded, the Mayor asked the members of the council if they had a motion on addendum 5, language that would have made it impossible for Uber to do business in Dallas.
The motion was brought by Councilman Sheffie Kadane to move the matter to the transportation committee and then back to the full council for a briefing. Councilmen Philip Kingston proposed an alternative motion, that a full investigation of the entire matter, with subpoena power, be conducted. Some general arguing ensued and the mayor suggested they go into private session to come to an agreement. When they all returned, the original motion was approved by adopting the amendment saying that the mayor would be responsible for defining the investigation. Then the mayor thanked us for coming and continued with the rest of the agenda. No comments from the public were allowed. Almost the entire room stood to leave, causing quite a ruckus—so much so that the mayor had to ask us to leave quietly.
I was on the agenda to speak about the issue and, had I spoke, I was going to explain how I thought we could turn this unfortunate event into something positive for Dallas. Whenever government picks winners and losers in business, we all lose in the end. Regulations designed to favor one business over another are abhorrent. Regulations should be enacted to solve problems that exist and yet no one has ever given me a cogent argument as to what problem Uber causes the citizens of Dallas.
Now that the council has moved the matter to committee, it is the perfect time … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
There’s an old saying about surgeons. They are “sometimes wrong; never in doubt.” If only the same could be said for biotech writers.
I’ve been sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and sometimes embarrassingly wrong the past couple years I’ve made predictions about biotech and fantasy football. Last year, I doubted both Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back, and Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG).
Right after banging those predictions out on my keyboard, Peterson, coming off knee surgery, produced one of the greatest full-season performances of any running back in NFL history. Celgene recovered from a regulatory stumble, and its stock doubled.
When you make calls like that, let’s just say doubt tends to creep into the picture. All you can do is own up to the mistake and try to do better next time. So here’s my third annual series of forward-looking statements about fantasy football and biotech.
The Reggie Bush Don’t Believe the Hype Award. It’s a little harsh to name this award after the former Heisman Trophy winner, who was a disaster in New Orleans, but grew to become a mediocre running back the past two years with Miami. Last year, this dubious distinction went to San Diego-based Arena Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ARNA) and Mountain View, CA-based Vivus (NASDAQ: VVUS). As predicted, both obesity drugmakers have been overhyped duds, like Bush in New Orleans.
This year, the award goes to Wilmington, DE-based Incyte (NASDAQ: INCY). Incyte recently released encouraging results from a mid-stage clinical trial of patients with pancreatic cancer. The drug didn’t work for everybody, but did appear to help extend survival times for half of the patients—ones who were considered most likely to respond to its JAK1/JAK2 inhibitor. That’s good news, but investors got carried away. Incyte shares gained 32 percent the day of the announcement, increasing the company valuation by $2 billion. That’s awfully rich for a drug that still has to prove it can extend lives in a Phase III clinical trial against one of the toughest-to-treat cancers on the planet. Incyte also will have to compete with Celgene’s paclitaxel protein-bound particles (Abraxane), which has increased survival time for pancreatic cancer patients in a Phase III study, and is currently under review by the FDA.
The Charles Woodson Fading Superstar. This dishonor was named last year for Peterson, the Vikings running back. Since Peterson proved all his doubters wrong last year, it only seems right to stop calling him a fading superstar. This year, the dishonor goes to the great defensive back who helped lead my Green Bay Packers to the 2011 Super Bowl title (even when he broke his collarbone). Sadly, Woodson has lost a step, and now plays for the pathetic Oakland Raiders.
Last year, this award went to Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), after it goofed up a regulatory submission in Europe. That turned out to be a momentary setback, as Celgene continued to execute well with its marketed products, nailed the pancreatic cancer study mentioned above, has been on fire in business development, and benefitted from an overall surge in biotech valuations. This year’s fading superstar is the Millennium Pharmaceuticals unit of Takeda. Five years have passed since Takeda bought Millennium, and it hasn’t yet introduced a follow-up to its hit bortezomib (Velcade) for multiple myeloma. Former CEO Deborah Dunsire is gone. The competition in this field keeps getting tougher, especially now that Amgen has acquired a rival myeloma drug from Onyx Pharmaceuticals. Millennium needs to do something, and soon, if it wants to remain a player.
49ers-Seahawks best rivalry. This used to be known as the Packers-Bears best rivalry, but the rivalry has lost some juice as the Packers have had the upper hand for so long. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers now have the league’s best rivalry, as they are both Super Bowl contenders, both play hard-hitting defense, and both have exciting young quarterbacks. To top it off, the coaches don’t like each other.
There are plenty of interesting biotech battles, but I’m intrigued by the one shaping up between Cambridge, MA-based Sarepta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: SRPT) and Netherlands-based Prosensa. Both of these companies have interesting RNA-based therapies in development for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a disease with no decent treatments today that cripples young boys. These companies are competing hard to win the hearts and minds of patients, grab the most investment dollars, and scoop up scientific talent. This drive will push both teams to play their best. It’s a great developing story. Patients will be big winners.
Tom Brady Sleeper Pick of the Year. Tom Brady of the New England Patriots was taken in the sixth round of the NFL draft. Sometimes the guy who nobody wants really does go on to achieve greatness. Last year in this space, I picked Sarepta Therapeutics as the biotech sleeper to watch. The company had released intriguing results from a study of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy patients after 36 weeks of follow-up, and its stock was at $14.92. Its body of evidence has gotten stronger since then, and the company has broken out in the past year, closing Friday at $34.13.
The current boomlet in biotech IPOs has created a surge in interest in obscure private biotech companies. The one to watch in the pipeline now is … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
We’ve got one company shopping itself for a stock sale, and two more who have raised new money in this end-of-summer collection of innovation headlines:
—Acquia, a website services firm, has hired a new chief financial officer as it prepares for a possible IPO: Dennis Morgan, formerly of Salesforce.com acquisition Buddy Media. The Burlington, MA-based company says its sales more than doubled to about $45 million last year, and told Bloomberg that it projects revenues to grow by another 50 percent this year. Acquia’s services help other businesses build and run websites based on the open-source content management system Drupal. Acquia has raised nearly $69 million in private investment so far.
—908 Devices, a Boston-based maker of handheld mass spectrometry equipment, has raised another $7 million in venture investment. No word on who led the round in the SEC filing, but 908 lists its investors as Arch Venture Partners, Razor’s Edge Ventures, and University of Tokyo Edge Ventures. 908 Devices is also a partner of In-Q-Tel, the venture arm of the CIA. 908 Devices filed paperwork for an investment round of about $8 million last September.
—StarStreet, a TechStars company that operates fantasy sports tournaments for cash prizes, has raised about $1.4 million of a round that could grow to $2 million. The new cash comes just as the NFL and college football seasons kick off, prime time for fantasy sports heads. Fellow Boston company DraftKings—which has raised more than $11 million in venture funding—offers a similar service. Betting on fantasy sports is legal in many places, by the way, because it’s not technically a game of chance.Comments | Reprints | Share: