Cubist Pharmaceuticals has been looking to diversify for a while, to get something more than antibiotics it can sell to hospitals. Now it’s getting the rights to what it hopes will be a big new pain drug.
The Lexington, MA-based biotech company (NASDAQ: CBST) said today it has obtained an exclusive right to acquire San Francisco-based Adynxx when it has results from an ongoing mid-stage clinical trial of its lead drug candidate, AYX1. Terms of the deal aren’t being disclosed, but Adynxx is getting a cash payment now and will get more if Cubist chooses to exercise its right to acquire the company. The venture capital firm Domain Associates, the primary backer of Adynxx, has now arranged to sell two companies to Cubist within the past four years. The other one was San Diego-based Calixa Therapeutics, an antibiotic developer.
Adynxx (pronounced uh-DYE-nix) was founded in 2007 by Julien Mamet, and received an $18 million Series A venture financing of $18 million from Domain in 2010. The idea, which I wrote about last August, is to come up with a new kind of pain reliever that could reduce acute pain, and chronic post-surgical pain, through a different biological mechanism than the existing non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen, or the addictive opioid-based pain relievers like oxycodone and morphine.
Adynxx’s drug is an oligonucleotide designed to be given as an intrathecal (spinal) injection in the hospital. It’s supposed to inhibit a genetic transcription factor called EGR1, which turns on various pain pathways when stimulated with a very specific painful experience—like a surgeon’s scalpel cutting through tissues. By inhibiting EGR1, Adynnx is hoping to stop pain pathways from sending signals to the brain, either on neurological or inflammatory routes. The drug is now being tested in a placebo-controlled study of 95 patients, which is expected to generate data by July, according to a posting on clinicaltrials.gov.
“This option agreement with Adynxx is an example of our disciplined efforts to expand our acute care pipeline,” said Steven Gilman, Cubist’s chief scientific officer, in a statement. “We are impressed with the pre-clinical and Phase 1 results to date of AYX1 and believe this program has the potential to become an important new therapy that may help patients to address the significant issue of post-surgical and chronic pain.”
Rick Orr, Adynxx’s CEO added: “We believe AYX1 has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of post-surgical pain. Based on the growing need for new pain therapies that offer more than temporary symptom relief, Adynxx is committed to developing AYX1 as rapidly and robustly as possible. Given Cubist’s proven expertise in the hospital setting, this agreement maximizes our chances of bringing this transformative therapy to market.”Comments | Reprints | Share:
Me-too drugs, knockoffs, copycats, retreads—they’re all names for new pharmaceuticals patterned after drugs already proven to work. The number of such labels alone signals the type of passionate commentary surrounding these products.
Critics have charged pharmaceutical companies with churning out these modified drugs to fight common ailments like high cholesterol or heartburn without proving that they perform any better than the first drug to work by the same pathways.
In the climate of resistance to such follow-on products, many pharmaceutical companies are adopting the tactics of innovative biotechnology startups by pursuing novel drug modes of action in a quest for breakthrough treatments, says Arthur Hiller, CEO of the startup SciFluor Life Sciences in Cambridge, MA.
But the drug firms may be sacrificing their best opportunities to improve healthcare and make significant revenues, says Hiller (pictured above). Some of the industry’s biggest success stories have come from important refinements of first-in-class drugs that led to best-in-class drugs, Hiller maintains.
“The most fruitful basis for the discovery of a new drug is to start with an old drug,” says Hiller, whose company is acting on that theory.
Innovations in medicinal chemistry—the art of optimizing a drug’s structure—led to SciFluor’s founding in 2011 by Harvard professor Tobias Ritter and his former student Takeru Furuya, who is now the company’s director of chemistry. SciFluor licensed the methods developed at Harvard for inserting the element fluorine into the structure of an existing drug to reshape its key chemical groups and enhance its value.
SciFluor’s chemists have been tweaking the composition of small molecule drugs by placing atoms of fluorine in strategic spots, such as the site where a drug binds to a target cellular molecule linked to disease. Fluorine, when substituted in for a smaller atom of hydrogen, can improve the “fit” of the drug to the target and thus make it more effective, says Ben Askew, SciFluor’s vice president of research. The binding affinity can increase by 10-fold, he says.
Changing the spatial contours of the drug with fluorine atoms can also prevent the drug from binding with off-target molecules, Askew says. That can prevent the side effects that often come with a medicine that’s not selective enough in its action, he says.
Such molecular tweaking can open a less risky path to valuable new drugs than exploring an exciting new cellular pathway revealed by cutting-edge research, Hiller says. Indeed, researchers have significant advantages when they tinker with drugs already proven to have health benefits, he says. For example, the design of clinical trials and the path toward regulatory approval have already been worked out to a large extent.
The knock on such follow-on drugs is that they’re merely a drug firm’s tactic to prevent a drop in revenues when … Next Page »Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
Chalk up another acquisition of a Boston tech company by a Silicon Valley giant.
Waltham, MA-based Active Endpoints has been acquired by data-integration software maker Informatica (NASDAQ: INFA), of Redwood City, CA. The news was buried in a press release announcing Informatica’s latest cloud-based product. It’s not immediately clear when the acquisition happened, or what the price was, but a report in Seeking Alpha says most of Informatica’s purchases since 2011 have been for less than $10 million.
If that were the case here (I’m guessing it isn’t), it wouldn’t be a good outcome for Active Endpoints’ investors. The company, which was founded in 2003, raised something in the neighborhood of $22 million led by Atlas Venture and North Bridge Venture Partners.
Active Endpoints makes process automation and collaboration software for corporate IT applications. When we last wrote about the company, in August 2012, its big focus was on Salesforce.com integration and enterprise mobility—and it sounds like that’s all being rolled out as part of Informatica’s latest software for the Web and mobile devices.
Boston-area companies having some overlap with Active Endpoints would include Mendix (in enterprise apps), Verivo Software (enterprise mobility), Apperian (app management), and Yesware (sales productivity via e-mail). We’ll see if any of those get snapped up by a West Coast firm too.Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
It’s sunny but cold in Barcelona today, as more than 72,000 telecom and technology professionals arrive for the first day of the Mobile World Congress. They come for the spinning, networking, and opportunity seeking—and perhaps for the tapas and Spanish wine. Yet the show is so big and so dispersed that most companies begin trumpeting their messages a week before the conference actually opens.
Innovation continues to drive the mobile telecommunications industry, which is still highly profitable—with typical earnings of 30 percent to 50 percent before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). The technology also is expanding well beyond mobile phones, seeping into everything around us. A car is no longer a car but its value will be soon in the connectivity it carries through machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. A cell phone is also becoming your wallet. And of course, tablets and smartphones can guide you on the streets of every city in the world using GPS and digital maps.
This year we are again bearing witness to the biggest technology fight of the decade, a clash that pits cell phone operators against suppliers of mobile content and applications, epitomized by such stalwarts of Silicon Valley as Apple, Google, and Facebook. The cell phone operators do not want to become the mere pipelines that provide connectivity for the “over the top” providers who use that connectivity to sell content and applications to mobile users.
Yet the operators have been hoisted on their own petard. Their resistance to working with companies funded by venture capitalists has stalled business plans aimed at selling products and services to the operators, or through them. As a result, innovators that could sell their content delivery and applications directly to consumers were the ones that got funded in the last decade or so. So operators unintentionally strengthened the over-the-top players, big and small. Now the operators are facing this reality of their own making, and we all are watching to see what they can possibly do to regain control over their own business.
This situation will become more pronounced with the accelerating transition to fourth generation long-term evolution (4G LTE) technology. Internet Protocol (IP) networks make it more difficult for operators to “own” the monetization of their customers. The unregulated IT players such as Google will have operators coming to play in their IP turf, while operators will continue to bear the increasingly high costs of regulations imposed by governments on an industry that was until very recently a monopoly business.
In Finland, broadband access is now a human right. Across the world, legislation is being introduced to establish net neutrality—which limits the ability of operators to manage and charge according to different types of traffic.
In other words, the worldwide mobile industry is poised for disruption. This is the undercurrent of tension behind the products, solutions, and pitches being made this week in Barcelona, as industry players ask whether a particular technology, product, or service will strengthen the IT/IP ecosystem players at the expense of traditional telecom players. The other question we’re all wondering is whether the traditional telecom players will wake up to the importance of innovation—not only in services, but also in technology.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Woody Allen is often quoted as saying 80 percent of life is just showing up. This past week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote a decent check, and just as important, he showed up for life sciences. It’s a small gesture, but a start.
The social-networking wizard took some time out of his week to stop by UC San Francisco’s Mission Bay research campus, for a press conference to unveil the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences.
This new prize, worth $3 million to each winner, went to an inaugural class of 11 of the biggest achievers in biomedicine. Billionaire Yuri Milner came up with the idea after establishing a similar award for physics. Besides Zuckerberg, he enlisted Google billionaire Sergey Brin, and their wives Priscilla Chan and Anne Wojcicki, to help join the cause for life sciences.
The money, of course, isn’t all that much to people already worth billions. While it may be a lot to the scientists personally, the gold itself isn’t really what this new set of prizes is about. It’s more about whether some of our most admired business celebrities can use their fame to recalibrate the priorities of a world obsessed with money, fame, sports, and entertainment.
That may be asking too much, but if nothing else, these tech zillionaires at least gave the appearance that they understand that the recognition they get is more than they deserve. Maybe just a little bit of their fortune, and fame, ought to rub off on the low-paid and underappreciated people who contribute to the world by creating new treatments for cancer or vaccines for malaria.
“We are thrilled to support scientists who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives. These scientists should be household names and heroes in society,” Wojcicki, the co-founder of 23andMe, said in a statement. “Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown,” Brin said.
Brin’s statement is just common sense that I’m sure most parents and teachers would agree with. But it means something coming from him.
Guys like Brin and Zuckerberg have an unusual responsibility in our society, because they are among the small handful of people who are celebrated because they are all extremely bright, driven, and rich. That celebrity club includes Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. These people set an example, showing that it’s possible for people who are smart, and work hard, to achieve great things and be rewarded.
Zuckerberg, though, is almost in a category by himself. Not only is he a household name, but he’s so young himself that kids everywhere in K-12 schools, college, and grad school can relate to him, right down to his wardrobe. These kids don’t pay any attention to business news headlines, like the one from last week which said Facebook paid no federal or state income taxes on its $1.1 billion profit last year. Young people are more likely to see Zuckerberg through a rose-colored lens, which gives him a good reason to behave like a good corporate citizen.
He sounds like he wants to be one. Here’s what Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks to the crowd of scientists at UCSF:
“The reason I’m excited about this is that I think our society needs more heroes that are scientists and researchers and engineers. You are doing all this amazing work. The thing we can do from the sidelines is build institutions that celebrate and reward and recognize all of the real work you guys are doing to cure diseases, to expand our understanding of humanity, and to improve people’s lives in all these ways.
“A lot of this isn’t about even you guys here today. A lot of what we’re doing here is about the next generation of folks. The students, the college students, and grad students who are in labs today, trying to figure out what they should work on and research. And younger kids who are trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. Hopefully, what we’re doing here today can help create something that will be really inspirational to folks, to encourage more people to do the important work you’re taking on.”
This is an important message from anyone, but it’s especially important coming from Zuckerberg. He, after all, has applied his intellectual gifts and business acumen to making people spend more of their lives glued to his website, and clicking on advertisements to buy more stuff. Not only does Zuckerberg apply his talents to this quest, his company spends a huge amount of time, money and energy recruiting as many bright young minds as it can find coming out of Harvard, Stanford, and elsewhere to make this their life’s work.
It’s not exactly God’s work.
What Zuckerberg and the other Silicon Valley celebrities supporting the Breakthrough Prize appear to understand is that we reap what we sow in this society. If we worship at the feet of LeBron James, we’re going to get millions of young people yearning to achieve that kind of success in basketball. If we adore Lady Gaga, millions of young people will strive to get on American Idol. If people look at the Forbes 400 and see only hedge fund managers, trust fund babies, and Internet advertising billionaires like Zuckerberg and Brin, then we shouldn’t be surprised when waves of smart young people show up there ready to work.
What you don’t see rewarded on those lists are people who created a great cancer drug, a new vaccine, or solved our nation’s healthcare delivery catastrophe. There are plenty of smart people working on those important challenges, but a huge amount of human capital has been flowing for years in other, less valuable directions.
As Christian Chabot, the CEO of Seattle-based Tableau Software, recently put it: “One of the great tragedies of the modern technology industry is that a majority of the world’s most brilliant and talented people, many of them computer scientists, have spent the last 15 years working on projects that are primarily about getting people to click on more ads, or put more stuff in their shopping cart. I just don’t find this very inspiring.”
To be sure, Zuckerberg and his celebrity bully pulpit aren’t going to solve some of the structural problems in biomedical research. The National Institutes of Health, which finances $30 billion a year of research, has been living … Next Page »Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
Too many good people, too few slots. Such is the curse of Mobile Madness.
Nevertheless we forge on. I’m pleased to announce a few more speakers for Mobile Madness 2013, our fifth annual mobile conference on March 19 at Microsoft NERD in Cambridge, MA. I hope to have the agenda finalized by next week.
—Dan Bricklin is a name that resonates among Boston techies, particularly those with an appreciation of history. Bricklin is the co-creator, with Bob Frankston, of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program (hello, 1979). Why is he speaking at a mobile event, you might ask? Well, Bricklin is now the president of Software Garden, an advisor to Alpha Software, and the developer of the Note Taker iPhone and iPad app. He’s an expert on pen-based computing, website creation, and tablet interfaces, among other things. And, most importantly, he epitomizes the notion that “mobile software and computing” really means “software and computing” in the post-PC era (or should we say, post-mobile era).
—Dan Ryan is perhaps at the other end of the spectrum. He’s the co-founder and CEO of ByteLight, an up-and-coming startup that’s using LED and mobile infrastructure to help create a new indoor-positioning system. Ryan will join a panel to chat about the future of connected devices, mobile hardware, and what’s beyond our current conceptions of mobility. He recently penned an op-ed entitled “The Problem With Kickstarter.”
—Chuck Goldman fits somewhere in between the above. He’s the founder and chief strategy officer of Apperian, the mobile-app platform and management company, and a former Apple exec (he led the iPhone enterprise beta program, among other efforts). Goldman has a keen eye for trends in the enterprise mobile and app-development industry, and he’ll moderate a panel I’m assembling on app strategy and business issues in the real world.
You can see the close-to-final list of speakers and registration info here. Stay tuned for more updates, and hope to see you all on March 19.Comments | Reprints | Share:
The symbiotic ties between industry and university scientists were a big theme this week in East Coast news. Some top academic researchers became instant millionaires as tech moguls honored their biomedical innovations, and new university institutes launched projects to accelerate progress in the pharmaceutical world. And the FDA’s approval of a new Genentech cancer drug means royalties for a Massachusetts biomedical company.
—Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN) helped Roche division Genentech figure out how to make its cancer drug Herceptin more potent, and the resulting drug, ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) was approved by the FDA on Friday for certain patients with metastatic breast cancer. ImmunoGen will receive royalties for the technology it licensed to Genentech—methods for attaching toxin molecules to antibody drugs such as Herceptin, which can deliver the toxins selectively to cancer cells.
—Eleven luminaries of the life sciences universe are probably walking around with stunned smiles on their faces as the first winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, set up by technology stars including the founders of Google and Facebook. Seven of those biological scientists—who will receive $3 million each—are at research centers in New York and Boston. The list includes genome sequencing pioneer Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA; two winners at Rockefeller University in New York, neurobiologist Cornelia Bargmann and Titia de Lange, an expert on telomeres; and cancer researcher Lewis Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.
—Companies such as Cambridge, MA-based Foundation Medicine and academic medical centers such as New York City’s new Institute for Precision Medicine are trying to pave an early path toward reimbursement for individual patient genomes and DNA assays of hundreds of different genes. They’re making the case to health plans that fuller genetic screening can improve diagnosis and reveal wider options for treatment. Foundation Medicine’s test for mutations in tumor tissue, Foundation One, looks at more than 236 genes linked to cancer in the scientific literature. The Institute for Precision Medicine, founded this year, will be looking for more links as it treats patients who have run out of options.
—That new institute, by the way, is a joint venture between NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and the Weill Cornell Medical College, which made news this week by announcing it had created an artificial human ear using 3-D printing. Along with colleagues at Cornell University, the Weill Cornell bioengineers took a digital image of a real ear, and then used it to print a 3-D mold into which they injected a gel made of living cells. They say such an ear might be ready for a transplant in three years.
—Pharmaceutical companies could be among the beneficiaries of New York University’s new Center for Data Science, which will train computer and math students to grapple with big data issues arising for businesses of all sorts. The program will match students up with companies to explore the challenges and opportunities that come with the deluge of information they create or use. The students could learn how to help drug companies deal with clinical trial data and genetic clues in drug development. Health care companies might get some help coordinating patient treatment and organizing their records.
—Some of the biggest data ever created comes from the sequencing of the human genome, and IBM is teaming up with the nonprofit Coriell Institute for Medical Research in Camden, NJ, to get ready for the day when genome sequencing becomes a routine diagnostic test. Their collaboration, called Coriell Life Sciences, plans to make it easy for doctors to make sense out of the deluge of genetic information, according to a story in MIT Technology Review. The business plans to sequence genomes, store the data in secure vaults, and help doctors order interpretations from the best companies in each disease field.
—Overwhelmed by big data? Take a break and think about Big Hair. The Cambridge, MA-based company Living Proof says it has raised another $30 million to puff out its hair care line and move into other beauty products. One of the investors, actress Jennifer Aniston, is the star of a new ad campaign for the company. Its products are based on scientific innovations, including a molecule called PBAE, which reportedly coats the hair strands with “thickening dots” for that fuller, thicker look.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Genentech’s scientists have long wondered about what would happen if they could deliver a more powerful version of their original hit antibody drug for breast cancer. Now they’ll see.
The South San Francisco-based company, a unit of Roche, said today that it won FDA clearance to start selling ado-trastuzumab emtansine (Kadcyla) as a new treatment for breast cancer patients whose tumors have spread, and which overexpress the HER2 protein. The drug, long known as T-DM1, combines the targeting capability of Genentech’s original antibody called trastuzumab (Herceptin) with a toxin that gives it extra tumor-killing punch. The approval is also noteworthy for Waltham, MA-based ImmunoGen (NASDAQ: IMGN), as it licensed technology to Genentech to develop the product, and stands to collect royalties on sales.
The FDA approval of Kadcyla (pronounced kad-SIGH-luh) is an important milestone for patients, for the businesses involved, and for science because of the novel way this drug works. The Genentech drug showed an ability in clinical trials to help women live longer, while causing fewer severe side effects than those who got standard treatment. The drug, priced at $9,800 a month, clearly has the potential to generate billions in annual sales for Genentech for many years to come. For scientists, it represents a major technical achievement, as it’s one of only two marketed drugs that effectively links an antibody to a toxin—the other is brentuximab vedotin (Adcetris) from Seattle Genetics (NASDAQ: SGEN). Researchers hope that these two drugs are just the beginning of a new wave of targeted, and more potent, cancer drugs.
“Kadcyla is an antibody-drug conjugate representing a completely new way to treat HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer, and it helped people in the EMILIA study live nearly six months longer,” said Hal Barron, Genentech’s chief medical officer and head of global product development, in a statement. “We currently have more than 25 antibody-drug conjugates in our pipeline and hope this promising approach will help us deliver more medicines to fight other cancers in the future.”
Genentech showed in its pivotal clinical trial of 991 women that patients on the new breast cancer drug lived a median time of 30.9 months, compared with 25.1 months for those who were randomly assigned to get GlaxoSmithKline’s lapatinib (Tykerb) and Roche’s chemo drug capecitabine (Xeloda). Researchers reported that about 40.8 percent of patients suffered moderate to severe side effects on the new drug, compared with 57 percent in the comparison group.
Still, this is a potent cancer drug, and it does come with some significant side effects. The FDA-approved prescribing information includes a “black box” warns doctors that liver toxicity, heart toxicity and death have occurred in Kadcyla-treated patients. The drug can also cause severe life-threatening birth defects, the FDA said in a statement.
The price is sure to cause some people heartache, too. At $9,800 a month, the price is more than double that of the original trastuzumab (Herceptin), which sells for $4,500 a month. Another Genentech drug approved last year for HER2-positive breast cancer, pertuzumab (Perjeta), was originally priced at $5,900 a month.
Genentech spokeswoman Susan Willson said the company expects a course of therapy with Kadcyla to cost about $94,000, based on patients taking the drug for about 9.6 months. The company is also making the drug available through a patient assistance program for those who can’t afford it, she said. “People who do not have health insurance, or who have reached the lifetime limit set by their insurance company, might qualify to receive Kadcyla for free,” she said.
Genentech tried once before to win FDA approval on the basis of more preliminary, Phase II clinical trial data. The company’s application was turned down in August 2010, as the agency asked for more data. The more definitive proof of Kadcyla’s value came last year in the form of the 991-patient study known as Emilia. About 232,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and an estimated 39,600 will die from it, the FDA said, citing data from the National Cancer Institute.Comments | Reprints | Share:
With this week’s news that Battery Ventures has closed new venture capital funds worth a combined $900 million, we thought it might be interesting to take a look back at the firm’s recent performance.
So we turned to information from state pension funds, one of the few sources of publicly available information about venture capital returns. And Battery’s most mature recent funds—dating from the turn of the millennium—aren’t particularly great.
That hardly makes Battery Ventures unusual. Venture capital in general has performed poorly in the past decade or so when compared with public stock indexes or other, more mundane investments that are much less risky.
To get a sense of Battery Ventures’ performance during this period, we pulled data from the public pension funds of California and Massachusetts. California’s data is posted online, while Massachusetts’ venture and private equity returns are available only upon request. I’ve posted the most recent Massachusetts report, which includes data on many private equity and VC firms through the third quarter of 2012.
Here’s what the data shows: There’s no evidence that Battery Ventures has generated what you’d call a traditional “venture return” in the past decade—something like doubling its investors’ money.
But, as some prominent critics have complained, that hasn’t stopped limited partners (or LPs) at pension funds from writing more checks.
Data from Massachusetts’ pension system shows the state has invested in Battery Ventures funds from at least 1999-2007 (the state does not discuss any performance data for funds that are less than five years old).
Two of those funds—1999’s Battery Ventures V and 2000’s Battery Ventures VI—are old enough to get a good, solid idea of how well the firm’s VCs performed. That’s because those funds are more than 10 years old, an age at which you’d expect all or nearly all of the investments to have run their course.
So here’s what Massachusetts got for its money: As of Sept. 30, Battery Ventures V had an internal rate of return of 8.29 percent. Battery Ventures VI did worse, delivering an IRR of 4.3 percent, according to the MassPrim figures. California’s investor data for the 2000-vintage Battery Ventures VI fund reports a similar IRR of 4.4 percent, as of June 30.
That means the funds made money. But they weren’t blockbuster returns on the scale of what VC firms hope to generate, which are significant double-digit IRRs.
Newer funds show a more mixed picture. The 2005-era Battery Ventures VII, which isn’t yet done generating returns, shows a net IRR of 4.7 percent, according to California’s figures. Massachusetts has that fund at a comparable 4.8 percent IRR.
The 2007-vintage Battery Ventures VIII is showing bigger returns right now, with an IRR of 14.8 percent reported by California and 13.9 percent reported by Massachusetts.
It’s simply too early in those funds’ lifespans to judge how well they’ll actually do—while the industry often describes a “J-curve” that shows funds losing money early and making it back long-term, critical investors like the Kauffman Foundation have said their own VC investments have repeatedly shown higher early returns that calm down over time.
So what’s the takeaway here? Like many of its peers, Battery Ventures hasn’t been delivering the huge returns that venture capital became known for in its prime years in the 1990s. But investors have kept coming back for more.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Adimab has raised a shade under $40 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2007. If things break the way co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross expects, this could be the year the VCs get their money bank without him going through the trouble of an IPO, or selling out to some Big Pharma company.
“This is an industry obsessed with liquidity events,” Gerngross says. “What we are doing is building a long-term, sustainable, private biotech company that is profitable.”
Adimab, the Lebanon, NH-based antibody drug discovery shop, has been laying the groundwork for the past six years to get itself in this position, to live life on independent terms the way few biotech companies ever do. Gerngross did the more traditional biotech thing at his last company, GlycoFi, a yeast-based protein production platform. That Lebanon, NH-based company raised traditional venture capital, and delivered windfall returns when it was sold to Merck for $400 million. It was the kind of experience that made it much easier for Gerngross to start another entrepreneurial venture like Adimab.
Antibody drugs, which can specifically home in on precise biological targets, have become a massive part of the biotech industry. Hit drugs like Genentech’s trastuzumab (Herceptin) and rituximab (Rituxan) and Abbott Laboratories’ adalimumab (Humira) have established new standards of care for patients in need, and they make up a drug category that’s worth more than $30 billion a year. As large, complex Y-shaped molecules, they are also far tougher for generic companies to copy, meaning they should have longer commercial lifespans than traditional oral pills like Pfizer’s atorvastatin (Lipitor).
Naturally, lots of companies want a piece of the antibody action, and are looking to small biotechs with capability to discover lots of potential product candidates.
Adimab, co-founded by K. Dane Wittrup and Errik Anderson, looked at this landscape and crafted an unusual plan from the start. What if instead of building an operation with one big future payday in mind, they could build a company that broadly disseminated antibody drug discovery technology across the industry to get multiple paydays? Adimab, from the start, was supposed to endure, not become a shiny new toy for some acquirer, and then end up suffocating and dying inside the colossus when priorities changed.
“We wanted to know how we could monetize without selling the company,” Gerngross says. “Based on our unique features, unique antibody libraries, we thought we could sell this essentially at least a couple of times. If it were true, we could create one of the very, very few privately held, highly profitable biotech companies.”
The idea seemed realistic the first few years, as a who’s who of pharma beat a path to New Hampshire to essentially do test drives with Adimab, to see if it could make exciting new antibody drug candidates against certain biological targets. Roche, Novartis, Merck, Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Gilead Sciences, and Biogen Idec were among those … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
For more than a decade, I was a faithful user of Quicken, Intuit’s desktop personal finance program. I stopped using it in 2008 after Mint.com came along, giving me the ability to monitor all my accounts from one simple, attractive, mobile-friendly app.
It wasn’t long before Intuit acquired Mint.com, so the company didn’t really lose me as a customer. And they still haven’t. Each spring, I use TurboTax to complete my federal and state tax returns. (The new iPad version of TurboTax works great, by the way—I finished my taxes in about two hours on Super Bowl Sunday.)
But I’ve now stopped using Mint.com as well, and I’ll tell you why: Pageonce came along, giving me the ability to monitor all my accounts from an even simpler, more mobile-friendly—and most importantly, more technically robust—app.
I sat down with Pageonce founder and CEO Guy Goldstein a few weeks ago to get the full story behind the Palo Alto, CA-based startup, which has 60 employees and has raised $25 million from Morgenthaler Ventures and Pitango Venture Capital. But before I tell you about the company, I want to say a little more about their app, and why I think it now outshines Mint.com in the usability department.
The great thing about Mint.com, when it first appeared in late 2007, was that it showed you all of your checking, savings, credit card, loan, and investment accounts in one place: the Mint.com website. Working with a financial data aggregator called Yodlee, Mint.com was able to grab updated account information automatically, every time you visited the site. It built on that data by alerting you about low balances, helping you track your spending by category, and showing you offers for lower-interest-rate credit cards and other financial products. Mint.com’s website and its iPhone app, which appeared in late 2008, were widely praised for their fresh, engaging design.
The trouble, for me, began about 18 months after the Intuit acquisition, when the Mint.com team decided to stop using Yodlee as their data provider and switch to Intuit’s own back end. The reasoning behind the change was understandable, but for users, it was a huge pain. I remember having to re-enter the usernames and passwords for all of my financial accounts. In several cases duplicate accounts showed up that I couldn’t figure out how to delete. As a result, Mint.com was telling me I had a lot more money than I actually had.
And after the switchover, the app never really seemed the same. Every time I logged in, there would be multiple “issues” requiring my attention—usually connections with bank or credit card accounts that had broken and needed to be manually repaired by reentering a password or secret answer. It was exhausting. I was spending more time fixing things in Mint.com than actually monitoring my finances.
I was ready to try any new finance app that could spare me these data-connection hassles. So when Rebecca Lynn at Morgenthaler Ventures told me about Pageonce, one of the companies in her portfolio, I was eager to check it out.
Pageonce works across multiple devices (the Web, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and 8, and Blackberry) and is exceedingly simple—or at least, the part users see is simple. You start by supplying Pageonce with the login credentials for your financial accounts and your regular household accounts, such as your cable, electric, gas, and wireless bills. The application then pulls all the updated balances together into a dashboard that summarizes your financial situation in one glance. It shows your total cash and investment account balances, the amount you owe on your credit cards, and alerts about things like large bank or credit transactions.
You can also dive deeper into each area, and check the balances of your individual checking, savings, and credit accounts. You can see which bills are coming up soon—and, even better, you can pay them from within the app. Pageonce shows the balance on investment accounts such as your 401(k) or IRA, and how your holdings break down within those accounts.
Finally, the application shows you financial offers tailored to your situation, such as credit card offers. Pageonce itself is free, so the lead-generation fees on these offers are how the company makes money. The startup also offers a credit score reporting service called Pageonce Credit Guard for $6.99 a month.
There are no fancy categorization or budgeting tools, though there is a very basic pie chart tool that compares your spending on utilities, insurance, interest, and the like. There’s also a cool feature called “File Cabinet” that stores copies of your past bank statements and utility bills. And that’s about it.
Goldstein, the Pageonce founder and CEO, says his philosophy about personal-finance apps is simple. “People are struggling with their money and they really need help,” he says. “We give them a solution to track everything and help them with their day-to-day finances,” so they can avoid late fees and other hazards.
And so far, consumers and mobile-industry observers are loving it. Some 8 million people have registered to use Pageonce. CNNMoney called it the “Cadillac of money management apps,” Apple named it a “Staff Favorite” app in November 2011, and the current version of the app gets five stars, on average, from reviewers in the iTunes App Store. That’s a much better showing than the latest version of Mint.com, which gets three stars.
The design of Pageonce isn’t as warm or inviting as that of Mint.com, but what’s far more important to me is that … Next Page »Comments (4) | Reprints | Share:
Battery Ventures, a major Boston-area VC firm, has raised two new funds that total $900 million. The firm says its approach will remain pretty consistent—covering a broad array of bets on companies in several technology sectors, at several different stages of growth.
Battery Ventures, which also has offices in Silicon Valley and Israel, is putting the money into two related funds. The largest share, $650 million, goes to the main Battery Ventures fund (the firm’s 10th). The remaining $250 million is reserved for a second fund targeting “larger growth and buyout situations.”
The 30-year-old venture firm also notes a changing of the guard atop its considerable roster. The firm is now being led by partners Dave Tabors and Scott Tobin, which the Wall Street Journal described as Battery’s “third-generation management” team.
There have been some notable departures at Battery, which raised its previous $750 million fund in 2010. As we reported last month, longtime VC Sunil Dhaliwal left Battery to found his own IT-focused fund, Amplify Partners. The Journal also noted the retirement of partner Tom Crotty.
Battery touted some of its successes in a news release announcing the new fund, including the 2012 IPOs of Splunk, Guidewire, ExactTarget, and Bazaarvoice.
Notable recent investments also include Wayfair, a Boston e-commerce startup focusing on home goods; Seattle-based IT software company Opscode; and Backplane, a social media startup co-founded by pop star Lady Gaga’s manager.Comments | Reprints | Share:
The best entrepreneurs are an elusive mix of tech-business expert, clear-headed thinker, contrarian, psychologist, and elevator repairman. Because, really, if you know how to fix elevators, you can pretty much do anything.
That would apply to Drue Hontz, the founder and CEO of Track180, a startup in New Haven, CT, that’s trying to reinvent how people browse news and get information online. Track180 has been working on an iPad app that organizes articles by event or issue and presents different “vantage points” around that issue from selected outlets and writers. Clicking on different vantage points helps give readers a more balanced view and more context around global issues—that’s the idea, anyway. The app is slated for release in April or May.
The overarching theme here is how to combat information overload, media bias, and lack of context—three of the biggest problems facing Internet readers. (Another New England startup, Cloze, just released an app for managing e-mail and social overload; interestingly, it also strikes a balance between algorithms and human input—see below.)
Let’s back up a bit. From age 19, Hontz worked as an elevator service repairman and then eventually moved to the office side of things, working in sales. In 1997, he started his own elevator company out of his basement in Connecticut with $20,000. Over the years he built Hontz Elevator (motto: “old-fashioned service at a good price”) into a five-state, 120-person company before selling it to Schindler Elevator in 2005.
After two years of working for The Man, Hontz was itching for a new project. It was time to get out of elevators and, as it turns out, into the world of online media.
Like most people, Hontz (left) got most of his news from the Web, but he was fed up with the fact that “everything led to information overload.” You could read a dozen different accounts of a news event, but that was time-consuming and tiring. What’s more, every event had a ripple effect on other events that was hard to track in media reports. Whether you’re reading about conflicts in Afghanistan, environmental and economic effects of a cement maker moving to Canada, or the recent Indian rape trial, he says, “there are so many aspects, you can’t understand it.”
Hontz says he wanted to devise a “new way of rearranging information” online. This was 2007-08. So he sold his boat and, as he puts it, “walked away from sailing the Caribbean.”
Track180 is the result. The app and content management system is built, and Hontz’s team has been tuning the user interface with feedback from beta testers. The key challenge: making the experience truly engaging and useful on a tablet.
“Humans need a path of least resistance,” he says. “I started mapping that out and tried to figure out a better way to navigate the information.”
Of course, scores of companies have been developing news apps, content discovery platforms, and the like. Some are social, some are algorithmic, and others use humans to curate content. One example is News360, which tries to personalize news feeds to individuals’ hobbies and interests (in politics, sports, and entertainment, say).
Track180 is different in that it goes out of its way to … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share:
What convinces investors that a drug discovery company is likely to bring products to the market, and rewards to shareholders? It comes down to just a few things: Proprietary biology. Confident management. Experience driving products into clinical trials and onto the market. Enough of a story to be able to raise money. And the likelihood, based on animal or early human data, that the drugs might actually work. These days, the final charm is to focus on orphan drug markets, where reimbursements are still robust.
Role models that have built on proprietary biology in the orphan space include the granddaddy of them all, Genzyme, acquired by Sanofi in 2011 for $20.1 billion; BioMarin (NASDAQ:BMRN), a disciple of Genzyme, and the current market darling, Sarepta (NASDAQ:SRPT), currently in Phase 2 trials in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
I argue here that the latest company to join this glowing group is Alnylam Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: ALNY), a clinical-stage biotech in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In my view, Alnylam has turned a corner in becoming a legitimate orphan drug developer with a strong proprietary pipeline and a good bargaining position with pharma. As much as wishful stock-pickers are speculating on BioMarin being the next juicy big pharma acquisition in the orphan-disease space, Alnylam just might beat them to the punch.
The smart money seems to agree with me. After settling a lawsuit with Tekmira (NASDAQ:TKMR) in November for an initial $65 million, Alnylam announced in January that it was raising $125 million. It actually raised $174 million—a good sign—at $20.13 a share, and the stock price continued to go up. Lately the stock has been trading in the $24 range, putting the company’s market capitalization at $1.2 billion, plenty large to attract investment from institutional investors.
Disclosure: I have been a consultant to Alnylam, most recently in 2007. At the time of this writing, I am long Alnylam.
Along the way, Alnylam has overcome huge doubt although there are still skeptics (and more skeptics). Talk about climbing a wall of worry! Skeptics have complained, in some cases accurately, that Alnylam faces big, scary challenges:
The last statement is definitely true. I’ll come back to it. First, let’s take the others one by one.
RNA is not a drug
When Alnylam was founded, it was truly heretical to invest in a platform developing nucleic acid drugs. I was a venture capitalist at the time and other investors told me that I was “throwing away my career” by pursuing investments in the field. Well, I’m not a venture capitalist any more but my career change was not due to any failed bets on RNA as a therapy. In fact, the investment that VCs, including my fund, made in Sirna Therapeutics in 2003 and some follow-ons paid off in a $1.1 billion acquisition by Merck in 2006. That early wave of interest in RNAi—a good five years too early, in retrospect—helped sustain Alnylam via partnerships with Novartis and Roche.
In the meantime, RNA therapies and their ilk are certainly not mainstream but they are no longer considered impossible long shots. An RNA-targeting product, mipomersen (Kynamro), developed by Alnylam’s business partner and competitor Isis Pharmaceuticals, received a high-profile approval from the FDA in late January, albeit with an attached warning. Other nucleic acid medications have made it to market (e.g. pegaptanib, an antibody-like aptamer sold as Macugen for age-related macular degeneration) only to be eclipsed by other products. A slew of new nucleic acid drugs—gene therapies, microRNA therapeutics—are making their way towards the market, some with validating pharma partnerships.
An astute industry insider I know, a senior executive at a pharmaceutical company with no stake in the success of RNAi drugs, told me that it’s not just Alnylam that has turned a corner—”it’s the whole field of oligonucleotide drugs.” But, he added, this shift is “less about advancing the technology than it is about finally coming to terms with and accepting its limitations. It’s not a panacea; rather it’s a modality that is useful in very particular settings (e.g., genetic disorders) and very particular tissues (e.g., liver).”
Other insiders agree the tide is turning and the fundamental opposition to the whole class of RNA-based drugs is melting away.
Delivery is an insurmountable problem.
Ten years ago, the biggest hurdle RNAi faced—both in public perception and in the laboratory—was delivery of RNA-interference-based medications across the cell membrane. In some ways, delivery still is a big challenge. But Alnylam has managed in several ways … Next Page »Comments (1) | Reprints | Share:
Cambridge, MA-based Living Proof says today it has raised $30 million to expand its line of hair care products, and to support the development and commercialization of additional beauty products. In today’s statement, the company says it also has begun its first national marketing campaign with actress Jennifer Aniston and her world famous hair.
Living Proof says new institutional investors supported the financing, including Leerink Swann—a healthcare-focused investment banking firm based in Boston. The Pohlad Family Capital Fund, created in 2010 by the family of the late Minnesota businessman (and Minnesota Twins owner) Carl R. Pohlad, also participated in the financing. They joined existing investor Polaris Venture Partners of Waltham, MA.
The company previously raised at least $23 million since 2004, when it was founded by Jon Flint and Amir Nashat of Polaris, with scientific help from the renowned MIT biochemist Robert Langer. Earlier this month, President Obama awarded Langer the 2013 Presidential Medal of Technology and Innovation.
The Wall Street Journal made a big to-do over a visit that Aniston made to the company’s Cambridge headquarters in October, when the star of “Horrible Bosses,” “The Break-Up,” and other films was named as the hair care brand’s celebrity spokesperson. Living Proof also identified Aniston as a “co-owner” of the company itself. (Living Proof executives declined to quantify the extent of Aniston’s equity stake, but told the newspaper it was meaningful.)
As the Journal noted at the time, Living Proof initially thought its scientific ties to MIT would provide enough instant credibility for the company’s hair care products to sell themselves. But in the multi-billion dollar market for women’s beauty products, MIT’s brand awareness proved to be only skin deep. So the company turned to a Hollywood heavyweight to provide the right cachet.
The company says its Aniston campaign is intended to promote the power of Living Proof science—and by extension, to make every day a good hair day.Comments | Reprints | Share:
It is of particular interest to me when an established industry begins to innovate and move in new directions. Financial technology has been an active area of innovation all along, but the advent of social media and crowd sourcing has infused new life to the sector. Aside from crowdfunding, here at 1M/1M we are also tracking innovations in the crowd sourced trading sector.
A perfect example is TradeKing, an online-broker dealer founded in 2005. When we first met in 2011, chief information officer Dan Raju described the Charlotte, NC-based company as the first consumer trading platform to introduce social media to online brokerage. Sourcing from over 20,000 customers and over 250,000 individual investors, TradeKing provides users with personalized insights regarding successful trading experiences. TradeKing supplements these discussions with curated Web content. Customers can then make informed decisions for their portfolio based on real market data.
According to Dan, this different kind of financial platform is driven by “self-directed investors” who make informed decisions about their capital rather than casually shopping around. The strong emphasis placed on social media creates an active online community where investors provide feedback for one another as well as for the site. As a result, the TradeKing model is entirely user-driven.
In August 2012, 1M/1M further developed its relationship with TradeKing by partnering to launch the Financial Entrepreneur Pitch-fest competition. Designed to encourage continued growth in the financial sector, the competition drew submissions from various types of innovators. The winners selected were provided one year’s sponsored admission to the 1M/1M program to build their platforms using the TradeKing API.
Competition winners support a growing trend toward user-focused financial apps. The two mentioned here, OmniVest and TheTradeStreet, base their platforms on user-defined trading strategies and networking within the trading community, respectively.
Ed Downs first combined his engineering background with the financial sector in 1987 when he founded Nirvana Systems. The company was designed to automate the trading process for individual investors, money managers and brokers. Under Ed’s direction, Nirvana Systems split to include Omni Traders International in 1999. Its flagship product, OmniVest, is a fully automated investment system based around creating portfolios of strategies.
OmniVest enables users to implement multiple trading strategies, using historical performances to make informed decisions. The chosen strategies are then combined into a “super collection.” The system uses this portfolio to trade every day, automatically growing investor accounts while implementing counter-risk measures. And with brokerage industry revenues down 20 percent in the past year, Ed points out that OmniVest can leverage brokers’ existing customer bases to increase trade volumes.
Co-founded in 2011 by Punit Gupta and his partner Krishnan, TheTradeStreet capitalizes on the power of community to create a social way to invest. After three years as an active trader, Punit recognized the importance of social networking in the trading community and set out to build an environment to foster these connections. He joined hands with Krishnan to create a platform for new and experienced traders to connect online.
The platform operates as a learning environment where traders can discuss ideas and novices can learn from experts in one convenient location. The crowd intelligence collected on the platform not only helps individual traders, but network activity has successfully predicted several major market events. In addition to seed funding from Punit and Krishnan, theTradeStreet is operated through revenues from the co-founders’ side project, CompareBroker.com.
Following a successful closed beta, TheTradeStreet launched this past January. Initial testing was done entirely with the user in mind, collecting feedback on desired features and value propositions. The site has hosted 10,000 trades to date and Punit reveals that plans for a number of premium features are in development for the coming months.
TheTradeStreet’s model of crowd-sourced trading aims to level the playing field for individual traders competing with research firms to predict market trends. Omnivest similarly caters to the user by managing portfolios according to personal preference. That both were chosen by TradeKing, an industry thought leader focused on the conversation around trading, shows a significant shift in the financial sector.Comments | Reprints | Share:
The top federal prosecutor in the case of Internet activist Aaron Swartz says the young man’s suicide was “a tremendous tragedy” that points to the need for better mental health services in the broader court system.
In an interview with Boston NPR station WBUR, Boston-based U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz declined to delve into the details of the Swartz case. She cited an ongoing congressional inquiry, launched earlier this year by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Swartz, who had battled depression over a period of years and written publicly about it, hanged himself in early January as federal prosecutors sought jail time in a computer-crimes case against him. Authorities say Swartz illegally downloaded huge numbers of academic papers from the paid website JSTOR, in part by using a hidden computer hooked up to MIT’s network.
Swartz was an online pioneer, helping to create the Reddit content-sharing network, the RSS publishing standard, and the Creative Commons content licensing system. He also was an activist dedicated to open access of information—he’d previously been investigated for mass-downloading court files from a government website, and that appeared to be his motivation in the JSTOR case.
Friends and compatriots of Swartz have criticized the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston for pursuing the criminal case against him too doggedly. MIT also has been criticized for not asking prosecutors to drop the charges, and has launched its own investigation.
Ortiz, the top federal prosecutor in Boston, has previously expressed sympathy about Swartz’s death. She also pointed out that prosecutors were seeking a relatively light sentence of six months in a light-custody facility.
In Wednesday’s interview with WBUR, she said Swartz’s death “was just a tremendous tragedy, and I don’t think that there’s anything that can occur to rectify that.”
Ortiz went on to say that Swartz’s case points out some holes in the overall court system’s ability to track the mental health of defendants:
“I think that much needs to be done in the area, really, of mental illness. How do we identify that mental illness—and not just prosecutors. Because you have to understand, prosecutors obviously are not in the best position to know a defendant’s mental state—how it’s deteriorating, how it’s progressing.
But that is definitely not only a discussion, but an issue that we—and when I say we, I mean prosecutors, defense attorneys, pre-trial services, and the court system—needs to be engaged in so that we can all do a better job at that.”
That’s unlikely to soothe those closest to Swartz, however. His girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, who lived with Swartz for the last eight months of his life, has written that she does not think depression was the direct cause of his death.
“I believe that Aaron’s death was caused by a criminal justice system that prioritizes power over mercy, vengeance over justice,” she wrote.
Swartz image used under Creative Commons license from Flickr user Prachatai.Comments (6) | Reprints | Share:
A few short news items to catch up on from around the New England innovation scene—and beyond:
—CounterTack, a digital security firm that relocated to Waltham in 2011, has raised some $4.3 million in equity, according to an SEC filing. CounterTack, which was previously known as NeuralIQ, raised a $9.5 million Series A round in late 2011. On its website, the company says its backers include Fairhaven Capital and other private investors. CounterTack is led by CEO Neal Creighton, who was co-founder and chief executive of GeoTrust, a company that sold to VeriSign for $125 million in 2006.
—E4 Health, a Providence, R.I.-based employee counseling service, has raised $3.5 million in growth financing. Boston private equity firm Mansa Capital Management led the investment. E4 Health used the proceeds in a recent acquisition of Corporate Family Network, a New York-based employee assistance program provider. In a release, Mansa says the investment is a prime example of companies that will target “Hispanic and urban populations” in the era of national healthcare reform.
—MassChallenge is expanding overseas. The nonprofit startup accelerator program, which is supported by business and government sponsors, is setting up shop in Israel to recruit startup founders for the four-month Boston-based program. Unlike other investor-led accelerator or incubator programs, MassChallenge doesn’t take any equity stake in the companies it hosts. But it does supply all of the other standard startup boot-camp features: Mentorship, education, workspace, and a fancy demo day event to cap everything off. MassChallenge recently said that its 361 companies had collectively raised more than $360 million in financing, earned $95 million in revenue, and created nearly 3,000 jobs.Comments | Reprints | Share:
[Updated 11:35 am with Zuckerberg comment] Some of the highest achievers in technology are giving away a lot of money to people who have made some of the biggest achievements in biotech.
Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, along with Google’s Sergey Brin and his wife Anne Wojcicki, announced today they have come together with Russian billionaire Yuri Milner to establish a prize for biomedical research that’s worth $3 million apiece. The new award, called the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, was given to 11 different biomedical superstars today. A new foundation administering the awards, chaired by former Genentech CEO Art Levinson, will plan to give five of these awards each year.
The tech moguls, who have achieved no shortage of fame for their work, clearly want see some more fortune and fame go to the high achievers in biomedicine. The stated goal of the new foundation is “advancing breakthrough research, celebrating scientists and generating excitement about the pursuit of science as a career,” according to a statement.
“This is the start of something that will hopefully be an inspirational thing for a lot of folks to come,” Zuckerberg said in remarks at a press conference today. The prizes being given today aren’t really so much about the first round of winners, he said, adding: ”It’s about the next generation of folks.”
At $3 million apiece, the prize is worth more than double what recipients get from a Nobel Prize, as Dennis Overbye noted today in the New York Times. Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA, one of the winners, told the Times it’s “a staggering amount of money for a scientist.”
The list of 11 inaugural winners represents a list of superstars within biomedicine, although none of them have achieved the kind of fame that Zuckerberg and Brin have. Here’s who took home the prize.
—Cornelia Bargmann of Rockefeller University in New York
—David Botstein of Princeton University in Princeton, NJ
—Lewis Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College in New York
—Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute for Developmental Biology and Stem Cell Research in the Netherlands
—Napoleone Ferrara of the University of California, San Diego.
—Titia de Lange of Rockefeller University in New York
—Eric Lander of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, MA
—Charles Sawyers of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York
—Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD
—Robert Weinberg of MIT in Cambridge, MA
—Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan and the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco.
Over at Forbes, Matthew Herper has some more detail on the specific achievements of each of the prize-winning scientists, and some discussion with readers about how much impact the tech moguls can make by bestowing awards on scientists who are already famous and well-funded.
Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the chancellor of UC San Francisco and the former president of product development at Genentech, served as the host of today’s award ceremony at UCSF Mission Bay.Comments | Reprints | Share:
Technology entrepreneurs are increasingly turning their sights on education, with visions of liberating knowledge from the textbook publishing cabals and driving down the costs that lead to heavy student loan debt.
That’s a good thing. But just like any other sector drawing a lot of startup interest, there’s starting to be plenty of dreck in ed-tech, says John Katzman, a longtime education entrepreneur.
“There are an awful lot of crappy startups in the education space right now, and people building features and thinking that they’re companies,” Katzman says. “The real opportunities, I think, are larger than that.”
Katzman, the founder and chairman of New York-based online education search company Noodle Education, was certainly in the right place to be discussing this topic—if education entrepreneurship is heating up, Boston is already one of the major hotspots.
As the country’s leading center for higher ed, and a place with plenty of entrepreneurs, the focus on education innovation makes sense in the Boston region. The scene here already includes everything from startups (like PeerTransfer and TenMarks) to accelerator programs (LearnLaunchX) and collaborations by the education establishment (MIT and Harvard’s edX).
Katzman knows a thing or two about education innovation. He founded and for many years ran the Princeton Review, a test-preparation company; he also founded 2U, a company that partners with universities to put degree programs online. Noodle Education, Katzman’s latest ed-tech venture, aims to be a one-stop specialty search engine for all things education—schools, courses, tutors, you name it.
At a Tuesday evening discussion organized by the New England Venture Capital Association, Katzman outlined some big goals that can still be tackled by entrepreneurs in ed-tech—including some big ideas he wouldn’t mind financing himself.
He also laid out the case against taking an ed-tech company public, explained why venture investors might not be ready to bankroll most companies in the sector, and gave a preview of where he thinks higher education is headed in the next decade.
For colleges and universities around the country, Katzman says, the future is going to look a lot different. At the top tiers of higher ed, “One or two programs will be larger and online. And the rest of them will be boutiques and live on, because they have huge endowments,” Katzman says.
The consolidation and specialization will be much more rampant in the middle and lower tiers, he says, in the same way the Internet and powerful networks have smashed through the old models in travel, bookselling, music, and “all of the information industries.”
“Overall, more kids will go to college. There will just be fewer colleges,” Katzman says.
That framework gives entrepreneurs plenty of things to target. As Katzman and company did with 2U (formerly known as 2Tor), he says there’s big opportunities in helping universities move online.
Katzman also says there’s a big opening in helping create good education content—the fuel for a new breed of teacher, who will be able to select individual pieces from a wide array of (hopefully) high-quality lessons and ideas.
“Why is there one Khan Academy when there should be hundreds of people creating good content—both for consumers and for schools?” Katzman asked.
The K-12 world also is ripe for change, and will see plenty, Katzman says. The landscape there is a bit more complicated, of course, because the administration, funding, and policy oversight is so much more spread out over local communities.
One big idea for a company “that I’d love to fund,” Katzman says, targets ways to improve the teacher evaluation systems … Next Page »Comments | Reprints | Share: