11
Oct
2017

George Yancopoulos on Threading the Price Needle, and Building a Biotech to Last

George Yancopoulos, the president and chief scientific officer, started his biotech career in 1989 at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. He’s been there ever since, and has pretty much seen it all.

It was a pleasure to have him as the guest for Episode 3 of The Long Run podcast.

Yancopoulos, in this recording at Regeneron offices in Tarrytown, NY, talks about how he and CEO Len Schleifer built the company together.

George Yancopoulos, president and chief scientist, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals

These two recall the lean years when investors wondered if they were running a science project, or building a real drug company. But Regeneron has broken out as one of biotech’s big successes. The company has developed 6 FDA-approved drugs so far. It’s the third-best performing stock in the S&P 500 over the past decade. Now Regeneron is attempting to the lay the foundation for many more drugs by investing in an ambitious genomics-based discovery center.

Yancopoulos is a forceful personality. You’ll hear his passion for science come through clearly in this conversation.

Before you take a listen, a couple quick plugs. If you like this show, you’ll love my subscription newsletter, Timmerman Report. You can go to timmermanreport.com to subscribe, either as an individual, or with a group discount for your company or university.

If you are interested in sponsorship opportunities for this podcast, this will be a great way to get your company’s name in front of a high-value audience of biotech executives and investors. Send me an email. luke@timmermanreport.com.

The next episode of The Long Run will feature a conversation with Richard Pops, the CEO of Alkermes, about his company’s anti-addiction drug, and the role it can play in combating the opioid painkiller epidemic.

This was a serious conversation, and an uncomfortable one at times. Some in industry have been irresponsible in overmarketing opioid painkillers. There is no silver bullet for this scourge. This will take a long-term push from multiple players – doctors, public health authorities, law enforcement, and the pharmaceutical industry. You won’t want to miss that upcoming conversation with Richard Pops.

Now, join me for The Long Run. Thanks for listening.

27
Sep
2017

The Long Run Ep. 2: Editas Medicine CEO Katrine Bosley

Katrine Bosley, the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Editas Medicine, is the guest for Ep. 2 of “The Long Run” biotech podcast.

Katrine Bosley, CEO, Editas Medicine

Editas, an aspiring leader in the field of CRISPR-based genome editing, is still a very young company. It was founded in 2013 with a license to use technology from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Within two years, the CRISPR-Cas9 technology has spread like wildfire because of its cheap, fast, easy, and rather precise way to ‘edit’ out genes across the genome, including single genes implicated in series diseases. In 2015, the company raised a big venture round with big names like Bill Gates, Google Ventures (now GV), Fidelity, T.Rowe Price and more. Six months later, without any drug candidate yet in clinical trials, it went public.

Almost every day, CRISPR is in the news, either for scientific or ethical reasons, or both. Before this episode was recorded, scientists reported successfully using CRISPR to edit a serious gene mutation out of human embryos. In this conversation, Bosley and I spoke about some of the day-to-day management issues around working in such a high-profile field, and some of the additional responsibilities that come with that territory.

In some respects, Editas is a biotech company like any other. It must harness its science, and rally its people around, solving a clear medical problem. It can’t do everything all at once. It must prioritize. But at the same time, it can’t put on blinders and be oblivious to the wider world uses and debates around CRISPR. What happens outside Editas’ walls and is beyond its control can have a big effect on its destiny.

Bosley, a 25-year veteran of biotech, thinks widely and deeply about not just her company but the societal issues as well. Before taking the Editas job, she spoke with George Church, the Harvard University genomics dynamo, extensively about the ethical implications of CRISPR. I think you’ll enjoy hearing her perspective on how an entrepreneur can size up a situation like this, and stay focused on the ultimate prize – a drug that matters.

You can subscribe for free to the regular download on iTunes or Stitcher, and if you leave some positive comments there, it will help others discover the show. And there will be plenty more to discover. The next episode will feature a conversation with George Yancopoulos, the president and CSO of Regeneron. You won’t want to miss that one.

Now, join me for The Long Run.

25
Sep
2017

Socializing After Hours: It’s How Biotech Runs, and Should Be Open to All

Back in the “Mad Men” era, there was the three-martini lunch. When boozy mid-day breaks went out of style, business executives found other ways to grease the wheels of social interaction outside of the office.

Like doing deals on the golf course.

There are many ways to cultivate the social connections that are a crucial step toward forming trusting relationships – the kind that make business go around.

I saw some of how this works in biotech, at close range, when Atlas Venture invited me to participate in Ragnar’s “Reach the Beach.” This is a 200-mile, 24-hour team relay running race that goes from Bretton Woods to Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.

The way it works is each person runs a few miles, and passes the team wristband to another runner. Everybody else hops in a van with teammates to always stay ahead of the next runner and keep the momentum going until it’s your turn to run again. Everybody runs three segments, with a few hours or so of rest in between. You go all through the night, and you have to wear a headlamp and reflective vest for safety when it’s dark. You maybe catch a couple hours sleep outside in a sleeping bag under the stars, usually at a small-town schoolyard. There’s all kinds of hooting and hollering and cow-bell ringing to cheer everyone on to do their best. Runners are constantly changing in and out of sweaty running clothes.

You can imagine the smell.

Everybody has a few stories to tell about a sore this and sore that after pushing themselves physically and mentally. As the endorphins fade, everyone bonds over a fun shared experience in the beer tent. There’s also a charity component, tied to the mileage the team put in during months of training. I think everybody was super-proud to have raised $82,000 through our collective efforts for a dozen good causes.

Personally, I had a great time. My sense was that everyone else did too.

Bruce Booth, a partner at Atlas Venture, puts a lot of time and energy into the event as the ringleader. He surely enjoys running himself, but the event is also about more than just having fun. This is business in motion.

Bruce Booth, partner, Atlas Venture

The Atlas Thursday morning running crew that trains along the Charles River regularly spurs valuable conversations and interactions. One morning in 2015 when then-GSK executive Jason Gardner was running alongside Booth, they hatched the idea that became Magenta Therapeutics. Kevin Bitterman and Jason Rhodes, a couple of recent additions to the Atlas partnership, also forged their connections to the firm through Thursday morning runs, Booth said, and by participating in Reach the Beach.

“Let’s face it, we are in a relationships business,” Booth said afterward. “Building those relationships is hugely valuable. When you have more than one dimension of relationship with folks, it adds more strength.”

This stuff doesn’t just happen by accident. Work goes into creating situations where you get to know people as people in a relaxed, informal setting. Once that’s done, you can reap dividends. It’s easier to pick up the phone or send an email to someone you’ve broken bread with (or shared a Clif bar with at 4 am). Maybe, just maybe, you might meet your future business partner or acquirer.

So how are Reach the Beach team members selected? Carefully. Everyone is very good at what they do. Among the 24 team members in the vans, there were Atlas partners, portfolio company executives, Big Pharma R&D chiefs, the occasional investment banker, and a journalist (me).

Nobody is explicitly pitching their business during the down time during this running event. There were no jerks. If I had to listen to startups pitching me their business, pleading for me to write stories about their companies in a van at 2 a.m., I would not come back. But this was my second year. And by getting to know people as people, I’m probably more inclined to call some of these people for stories I’m working on in the future that are up their alley.

Samantha Truex, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Atlas, described afterward the value she saw after participating for the first time:

Samantha Truex, entrepreneur-in-residence, Atlas Venture

“It helps people develop the relationships that make you that much more likely to pick up the phone and call this person and return that email, if you sat in a van with someone for 26 hours, and lived through a challenge together. You get to know what someone’s integrity and stamina is like, and get to know and like them as people. It’s also just fun.”

Robert Urban, as the global head of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, is surely the kind of guy that every entrepreneur wants to buttonhole and pitch all hours of the day. He wants to enjoy his run, especially the part under the stars at night. That’s not the time to talk about PD-1 inhibitors and various combo regimens.

But when Monday rolls around, if a member of the Reach the Beach team were to call, the wheels of social interaction have already been greased. Want to talk PD-1 inhibitors and combo regimens? Sure.

As Urban put it:

“You get to know people as individuals. It goes much further down the road. It’s about trust. Our relationships are centered on trust. When you have trust founded on a different pretense, it’s more remarkable and durable. No question, that’s an important part of what comes from an event like this.”

Of course, Atlas isn’t the only VC firm trying to cultivate deep and lasting relationships in the innovation community. Several VCs I corresponded with last week said they have similar social-interaction goals in mind.

Alexis Borisy, a Partner at Third Rock Ventures, wrote:

“Our Beyond Great events typically incorporate a social element, as we feel that is a very valuable component to the program. Specific activities have included golf outings, fishing trips, hikes, going to ball games together. The value to these types of activities lie in the relaxed, interactive atmosphere that allows for sharing of experiences, ideas, insights and opinions in a way that a structured environment cannot. The individuals we gather for these types of events are each integral members in our ecosystem.”

Now at this point in the story, you may wonder: What about women? Do they have access?

I did, too.

Women, of course, historically haven’t invited to the three-martini lunches or the golf course. Today they might be invited, but they might not always feel welcome, comfortable, or certain they should attend. It’s still a problem.

The biotech VC business is still very much a male-dominated one. Atlas has an all-male partnership. No big surprise, the runners are mostly men. Women were 4 of the 24 participants (17 percent). The disparity was pretty common across the Reach the Beach event, which is open to anyone. There were 199 men’s teams, 33 women’s teams, and the rest were mixed-gender like the Atlas teams, Booth said.

Booth told me he wants to improve the gender balance, but he also wants to invite prior year runners to foster team loyalty. As a few people naturally drop out each year, “then I invite another 15-20 to fill the 2-3 unfilled team spots that open up and the 8 or so alternates (when we have 2 teams),” he said.

Truex said being one of the few women on the trip didn’t bother her. She said she’s used to being in meetings dominated by men. She agreed to participate once she realized the event wasn’t about speed, and the two Atlas teams hoped to finish at about the same time.

“If I thought the team was trying to win or improve upon its time every year and get better and better, then I’d be intimidated because I’m not one of the really fast runners,” she said.

Speaking for myself as a pretty serious distance runner and occasionally clueless white male, it never occurred to me that competitiveness in running might be a concern. Urban also confessed he heard a woman raise the question of whether it was safe for women to run alone for miles on country roads in the middle of the night. That thought had never crossed our minds.

During some down time at the event, I chatted with Urban about the business importance of events like Reach the Beach, and the extra importance that they be open and inclusive to women. He agreed, and reminded me of Nancy Hopkins’ story.

Hopkins, now a professor emeritus at MIT, fought battles against sexism in an age when it was more vocal and overt than the subtle forms we see today. Even though she was close friends with fellow faculty member Phil Sharp, she was excluded from the founding group at Biogen because “business men wouldn’t work with women.” I’d never met her, but through an introduction from Urban – Reach the Beach social connectivity in action – I was able to get Hopkins’ perspective on how intentional biotech groups would have to be to create situations that are welcoming and inclusive for women.

Nancy Hopkins, professor emeritus, MIT

She sent me her notes from a 2016 talk she gave at Penn about gender bias in biotech startups. It was jarring. When she analyzed the founders, boards, and scientific advisory boards of some of the most high-profile startups to come from Harvard and MIT faculty members in the past 15 years, she saw names of 223 men and 8 women.

As someone who has covered many of these companies over the years, I could have told you they were male-dominated in those areas, but even I was shocked to see how imbalanced things really are. Hopkins elaborated:

Women were excluded for 40 years and they still are. It is very hard to make up for that.

A young woman from HBS came to see me to ask me about this issue several years ago. She went to work in a VC company. She soon left. She said it was a frat house. And that it was entirely who you knew. She was left out, so no way to be part of the action.

As I say, it will take a sledge hammer to fix this problem.

I’d like to hear what more women have to say. We all know these sorts of after-hours events are where business bonds are cemented. They are crucial to the biotech ecosystem. Careers advance this way. After-hours events should be open and welcoming for women, as well as men. Part of it is intentional effort by organizers and part of it is women speaking up to inform the clueless about what doesn’t feel inclusive. (Note to Reach the Beach: when you top your registration website with a quote about the B.O. and the “fuzzy upper lip,” you’re sending a message about who this is for.)

During my time as an “embedded” journalist on this particular run, I saw great team spirit, great connections, great humor. It wasn’t a frat house, not even close. The women I spoke with enjoyed the event as much as the men. But 20 men and 4 women isn’t gender equity. I hope to see more women in the vans next year and the year after that — selected from a larger pool of women in industry. It’s good for people’s careers, and good for the industry.

Team Photo: Reach the Beach 2017. Atlas Venture’s “Runners, Drug & Money.”

13
Sep
2017

The Long Run, Ep. 1: Conversation with Alnylam CEO John Maraganore

Podcast listeners, check it out: Today, I’m starting a new podcast for biotech adventurers like you – executives, investors, scientists.

It’s called The Long Run. Here’s the gist:

Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton, if he were alive, would appreciate biotech. Today’s scientific entrepreneurs must be ready for the “hazardous journey, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” Today, the men and women who strive to apply science for the betterment of human health have a historic opportunity. They need stamina, and resilience, to achieve something meaningful. Biotech’s relationship with the society that sustains it has never been more tenuous.

This show will provide a forum for thoughtful conversations with biotech leaders, typically between 45-60 minutes, airing every other week.

John Maraganore, CEO, Alnylam Pharmaceuticals.

The debut episode (click here) features John Maraganore, the CEO of Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and the chairman of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. We covered some of Alnylam’s 15-year history, making the transition to a commercial enterprise on the cusp of long-awaited Phase III clinical trial data, and the industry’s ongoing problem with drug pricing.

LISTEN

Like all podcasts, this show is being made free to all listeners – no TR subscription necessary. As an independent production of Timmerman Report, it will be available here first.

The next episode of The Long Run will feature Katrine Bosley, CEO of Editas Medicine, a drugmaker based on CRISPR-based genome editing technology. In Ep. 3, hear Regeneron Pharmaceuticals chief scientist George Yancopoulos talk passionately about creating a scientific culture that is so productive at creating new medicines that it doesn’t need to resort to price-gouging stunts. Expect a wide range of fascinating people and topics to come over time.

Thanks go out to my excellent collaborators. Pedro Rosado of Headstepper Media was the editor and producer. Music comes from D.A. Wallach. Todd Bennings created the logo. Steve White developed the landing page on TimmermanReport.com.

If you, or someone you know, is interested in sponsoring The Long Run, let’s talk. This will represent a rare opportunity for one, maybe two, sponsors to deeply engage with biotech leaders who will be listening. Email: luke@timmermanreport.com

Don’t miss an episode. Subscribe for free at the links below. Thanks for listening!

1 2 3 19