First Everest, Now Kilimanjaro: Climb With Me and a Great Biotech Team to Fight Cancer

Summiting the highest peak in the world and raising $340,000 for cancer research at Fred Hutch was the start.

It was the start of something bigger.

Today, I’m overjoyed to say that an outstanding team of biotech executives and investors will join me on the Kilimanjaro Climb to Fight Cancer. This will be a 7-day expedition to the summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, in late July.

Like Everest, this climb will be a big fundraiser for cancer research at Fred Hutch, a leading center for immunotherapy.

Unlike Everest, the pinnacle of Kili can be reached without supplemental oxygen tanks and fancy technical gear. At 19,340 feet, Kili is within reach for anyone in good physical shape, a willingness to train for a few months, and a desire to support this great cause.

So far, 16 climbers are confirmed. They are leveraging their networks to raise $50,000 apiece.

Look who’s joined the Kilimanjaro team so far:

Bob More. Bob is a veteran biotech venture capitalist, now serving as a partner with Alta Partners and as an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He’s a skier, and two-time climber of Kilimanjaro. Bob is functioning as campaign co-chair, providing me with valuable support and advice. (Donate to Bob’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign.)

Garry Menzel, CEO, Cambridge, Mass.-based TCR2 Therapeutics. Garry is not only running an aspiring leader in the field of engineered T-cell receptor therapies for cancer, he’s an accomplished mountaineer. Notable ascent: Manaslu in Nepal. It’s the eighth-highest mountain in the world. (Donate to Garry’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign.)

Praveen Tipirneni, CEO, Waltham, Mass.-based Morphic Therapeutic. Praveen is running a company that has used a combination of proprietary crystallography images, high-powered computational simulations, and small-molecule chemistry to sprint ahead with new drug candidates against integrin targets. This fall, AbbVie wrote a $100 million upfront check help advance this work. Praveen also happens to be a runner. We once shared a van ride on the 24-hour road race called “Reach the Beach” in New Hampshire. Apparently, that sweaty van ride didn’t dissuade him from accepting this invitation. (Donate to Praveen’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Kelly O’Brien, vice president of philanthropy, Seattle-based Fred Hutch. Kelly O’Brien was the key decision-maker at Fred Hutch who bet on the Everest campaign before success was assured – both on the mountain, and in the fundraising department. Kelly is also an experienced climber. She has summited Kilimanjaro, and trekked to Everest Base Camp, elevation 17,500. (Donate to Kelly’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Zoe Barry, CEO, Boston-based ZappRx. Zoe is an up-and-coming entrepreneur offering software solutions to streamline the prescription management of specialty medicines. She’s also a runner, having participated in the “Reach the Beach” run organized by Bruce Booth of Atlas Venture. (Donate to Zoe’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Kristin Anderson, Kristin is a postdoc in Phil Greenberg’s lab at Fred Hutch. The lab boss is a co-founder of Juno Therapeutics, and a world leader in CAR-T and TCR cell therapy. Anderson is a cancer survivor (triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis at age 28), and she’s also a rising scientific star. This fall, she won a Presidential Award winner for young investigators from the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). She says she enjoys hiking in the Cascades, but doesn’t get out as much as she’d like. Wonder why? (Donate to Kristin’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Bill Newell, CEO, South San Francisco-based Sutro Biopharma. Bill’s company is developing antibody-drug conjugates for cancer. The key twist is that Sutro makes its large molecules in a cell-free platform, aiming to sidestep the cost and complexity of classical biologics manufacturing in eukaryotic cell lines. Sutro has a number of well-known partners, and was a member of the Biotech IPO class of 2018. (Donate to Bill’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Lesley Stolz, head, JLABS Bay Area. Lesley is a veteran of biotech business development. For those unfamiliar, JLABS is part of Johnson & Johnson. JLABS sets up quality lab space for entrepreneurs to help them hit the ground running with experiments that are essential for little companies to grow up and win the next round of funding from venture capitalists. (Donate to Lesley’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Luke Timmerman, founder & editor, Timmerman Report. I’ve been writing and speaking about biotech since 2001. (Donate to Luke’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Simba Gill, CEO, Evelo Biosciences; venture partner, Flagship Pioneering. Evelo is based on new insights into the interactions of the microbiome and the immune system in the tumor microenvironment. Evelo is a member of the Biotech IPO Class of 2018. Born in Tanzania, Simba’s mother summited Kilimanjaro when she was pregnant with him. Dang. (Donate to Simba’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Heidi Hagen, co-founder, chief strategy officer, Vineti. Heidi is working to build a venture-backed software company to help cell and gene therapy companies manage specialized supply chains. She gained a wealth of experience in this tricky area at Dendreon. Heidi, in a past life, was twice named to the All-Pac10 team as a middle-distance runner at the University of Washington. (Donate to Heidi’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Uciane Scarlett, associate, Atlas Venture. Before joining Atlas in 2018, Uciane (pronounced “You-sha-knee”) was a director of business development and strategy at Compass Therapeutics. Compass is a private company working on treatments for autoimmunity and cancer. Uciane got her PhD in cancer immunology from Dartmouth College. (Donate to Uciane’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Sandy Zweifach, founder and CEO, South San Francisco-based Nuvelution Pharma. Sandy has a diverse set of experiences in business development, investment banking and venture capital over the past 25 years. Nuvelution, backed by Clarus Ventures and Novo A/S, seeks to increase R&D output through risk-sharing collaborations. As a climber, he attempted Pico de Orizaba, one of the famous Mexican volcanoes, years ago. (Donate to Sandy’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Nancy Miller-Rich, CEO, Miller-Rich Associates. Before starting her own consulting firm in September 2017, Nancy was a senior vice president at Merck. She oversaw global human health business development and licensing, strategy and commercial operations. That gave her direct profit-and-loss involvement in a $38 billion business. At Merck, she closed 300 deals, involving $10 billion in value creation. Nancy has also dreamed of climbing Kilimanjaro for years. (Donate to Nancy’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Kirsten Axelsen, vice president for strategy and new business assessment, Pfizer Innovative Health. Kirsten leads the team that crafts strategy for the Pfizer Innovative Health business, and the company’s patient-focused vision. Through nearly two decades at Pfizer, Axelsen has made her name as someone “uniquely savvy about the complex commercial and political landscape into which today’s drugs are developed and launched,” said Nina Kjellson, a general partner with Canaan Partners. Kjellson adds that Axelsen is a mother to twins, a marathon runner and “all-around bad-ass.” (Donate to Kirsten’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Nina Kjellson, general partner, Canaan Partners. Nina is one of the most respected biotech VCs in the business. One of her current portfolio companies is Vineti, (see above) the software company striving to advance the cell and gene therapy revolution. (Donate to Nina’s Climb to Fight Cancer campaign).

Want to join this private group on the highest peak in Africa, July 17-28?

This campaign is shaping up into something special. Simple math says that 20 climbers each raising $50,000 adds up to $1 million.

We are well on our way to that goal with 16 climbers. At least a dozen more are considering joining. Our group limit is 28.

Together, we will raise a ton of cash and awareness for this exciting moment in cancer research.

Want to join the Kilimanjaro team?

Interested in sponsoring?

Email: luke@timmermanreport.com

Thank you for everything you do in the fight against cancer.


Google Money at Work in Biology: Krishna Yeshwant on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Krishna Yeshwant.

Krishna is a general partner with GV, the corporate venture firm formerly known as Google Ventures. He is a rare bird – a Stanford computer scientist and a Harvard physician. With this combination of professional interests, and with the resources of Google to invest in fledgling companies, Krishna has acquired an unusual vantage point on where things are going, and where they could go, in biotech and healthcare.

Krishna Yeshwant, partner, GV

GV, like most corporate venture firms, doesn’t promote itself as much as traditional venture firms that need to hit up Limited Partners for new cash every 3-5 years. Krishna doesn’t talk to the media much. I enjoy talking with him on a semi-regular basis, and appreciate this extended look into his thinking on the podcast. He has his hands in a huge number of pies in biopharma, in genomic diagnostics, and in biology-and-healthcare software.

Krishna recently turned 40, a traditional time to take stock on one’s work.

Here’s one safe bet: He will be around a long time, keeping his finger on the pulse of biology and computing.

Before we dive in, a word from our sponsor.

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To learn more about PPD Biotech or to schedule a meeting with us at the upcoming J.P. Morgan conference, visit www.PPDbiotech.com/longrun.

Now, join me and Krishna Yeshwant for another episode of The Long Run.


Extending Human Healthspan: Ned David of Unity Biotech on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run is Nathaniel David.

He goes by Ned for short.

Ned is the co-founder and president of Unity Biotechnology. The company, founded in 2011 and based in Brisbane, Calif., comes from an emerging school of thought around clearing out senescent cells.

Ned David, co-founder and president, Unity Biotechnology

The wager at Unity is that by clearing out these senescent cells that accumulate in old folks, it should be able to treat certain diseases of aging. Starting with osteoarthritis.

Unity’s ambitions actually go far beyond osteoarthritis. It bills itself as a company that’s “extending human healthspan.” That’s not the same as simply extending human lifespan — helping humans live longer. The marketing makeover at Unity, and some of its rivals, is partly in an effort to distance itself from the hucksterism and wishful thinking that has long dogged the science and commerce of “anti-aging.” He’s trying to walk a line other entrepreneurs have been down, where they want to captivate people’s imaginations about what’s possible around vitality in older age, but without indulging in Ponce de Leon “fountain of youth” fantasies.

Immortality is really an alluring and enduring myth. Remember telomeres, sirtuins, and the Singularity? Yikes!

At age 51, Ned David is an interesting character to enter this arena of biotech. He’s a serial scientific entrepreneur with a string of successes (Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, Syrrx, Achaogen) and a few battle scars (Sapphire Energy, Kilimanjaro Energy). He gets exposed to a lot of far-out scientific concepts through his longstanding role as a venture partner with Arch Venture Partners.

Ned has a myriad of interests that span science, business and policy. I always enjoy talking with him, and I think you’ll enjoy this wide-ranging conversation across more than a couple domains.


China Biotech: Six Things to Watch in 2019

More than $1.5 billion in cash flooded into four IPOs offerings for China-based drug developers this year.

These were just the first. The China biotech IPO opening was — and will continue to be — a big ongoing story.

In April, the Hong Kong Stock Exchange relaxed rules allowing public stock investment in pre-revenue (development-stage) biotech companies. In July, the first such company (Hangzhou-based Ascletis Pharma) took advantage of the situation and went public in Hong Kong. Some predictable Wild West up-and-down stock action ensued. As the initial wave of enthusiasm passes, what are the main forces at work that will shape the market in the year ahead?

Read this exclusive report on Six Things to Watch in China Biotech as you prepare to make the most of China Showcase on Jan. 6, 2019 in San Francisco.

See you there around Union Square.


From Nova Scotia to the Forefront of Bio & Tech Investing: Julie Sunderland of Biomatics on The Long Run

Julie Sunderland is the guest on the latest episode of The Long Run podcast.

She is a managing director at Biomatics Capital, a Seattle-based venture firm that invests in what it calls “data-enabled healthcare.”

Before diving into that, as always, I want listeners to get to know the person making things happen, and how she got here.

Julie Sunderland, managing director, Biomatics Capital

Sunderland her fellow investing partner Boris Nikolic worked together at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before starting their own firm in 2016. Sunderland, with a finance background and a deep understand of science-based business, was the architect of the Gates Foundation’s Program Related Investments structure and strategy. She figured out how the world’s largest philanthropy could make equity investments in biotech companies whose interests align with the foundation’s global health mission.

Nikolic, a scientist by training, was the personal science advisor for Bill Gates, and he handled some of Bill’s investments in biology plays like Foundation Medicine, Editas Medicine, Nimbus Therapeutics and Schrodinger. Essentially, these were extracurriculars that venture beyond the global health philanthropic mission of the foundation, but have far-reaching potential for all of biology.

Biomatics raised an initial fund of $200 million in 2016 and put it to work in an eclectic mix of therapeutics, diagnostic, and digital health or tool plays. The portfolio includes Denali Therapeutics (a neuroscience drug developer), Grail (early cancer detection), Twist Bioscience (DNA synthesis) and Verana Health (mining of electronic health records to assist drug developers).  

Last week, Biomatics announced it has closed on its second fund, this one with $300 million, to keep doing what it does.

Sunderland is also a down-to-earth person, raw and real. She grew up in a home in Nova Scotia that lacked electricity until she was 12. Now she interacts with some of the smartest entrepreneurs and investors in the world of biotech. It’s quite a life journey.

Now, sit back, relax, and join me and Julie Sunderland for The Long Run.


Exploring Synthetic Lethal Cancer Drug Discovery: Barbara Weber on The Long Run

Today’s guest on The Long Run podcast is Barbara Weber.

She is the CEO of Cambridge, Mass.-based Tango Therapeutics.

Ever hear the saying ‘it takes two to tango?’ That’s where this startup draws its inspiration. It’s seeking to discover and develop synthetic lethal cancer drugs. These are intended to target two molecular vulnerabilities of a cancer cell, not just one, like the first wave of targeted therapies did 20 years ago. The concept of ‘synthetic lethal’ is a hot area of cancer biology. Venture capital has been flowing for a couple years now to companies like Tango, Repare Therapeutics, Ideaya Biosciences and Cyteir Therapeutics.

Barbara Weber, CEO, Tango Therapeutics

Tango, founded in 2014, is still at quite an early stage. It has no drug candidates in the clinic. It will be years before it gets there, if ever.

Yet the science is interesting. I’ve written about Tango before, and invited Weber to speak about Tango last spring at my Boston Cancer Summit. That was a charity fundraiser for my Everest Climb to Fight Cancer campaign for research at the Fred Hutch.

Turns out she’s been busy since then.

Today, Tango is announcing its first big partnership. Gilead Sciences is paying $50 million upfront to get the option to license five new targets that come from Tango’s discovery platform. Tango retains 100 percent ownership of its lead programs. Not too shabby.

Weber has the kind of resume you’d expect of someone serving as Dean of Genetics at some distinguished university. She’s an MD by training, did a residency at Yale, fellowship at Dana-Farber, became a professor of genetics at Michigan and Penn. She left academia for industry, taking R&D leadership roles at Big Pharma stalwarts GSK and Novartis.

She ended up at Third Rock Ventures, the Boston and San Francisco-based venture firm that starts companies focused on emerging areas of biology. Hearing her describe her career arc, she seems to have gotten into the right kind of situation where she and her team can execute on something she’s long wanted to do.

Now, join me and Barbara Weber for The Long Run.


Nine VCs Who Matter, But You Never Read About

Venture capitalists see a steady stream of people asking for money and currying favor. This can inflate the ego to unhealthy proportions. The best VCs, however, don’t let all that get to their head. They also don’t just write checks. They help entrepreneurs.

Quite a few of the best VCs in biotech tend to work behind the scenes. You don’t see them seeking media attention, and rarely see them on panels.

So who are some of the venture investors who have major-league stuff, but who you never read about?

Go to KNect365 for this preview article as you think about who you might want to meet at the Biotech Showcase in January in San Francisco.


Making it Easy to Share Biological Data: John Wilbanks on The Long Run Podcast

John Wilbanks is today’s guest on The Long Run podcast.

He’s the chief commons officer of Sage Bionetworks. He’s also a senior fellow with FasterCures.

Sage, for those unfamiliar, is a nonprofit biomedical research organization, founded in Seattle in 2009 by a couple of veterans of Merck. Co-founders Stephen Friend and Eric Schadt recognized that no single company’s R&D labs, no matter how smart and well-funded, have the same kind of capability as the crowd. Sage seeks to promote innovations in personalized medicine by enabling what it calls “a community-based approach to scientific inquiries and discoveries.”

As Wilbanks says, he “likes making it easy to share things.”

This is easier said than done.

The questions that Wilbanks wrestles with every day are of crucial importance to anyone who cares about how science gets done, how people get rewarded for advancing a field, and how quickly we can convert data into medically beneficial information and knowledge. This conversation is a look at some big picture ideas that are relevant to everyone in both the biopharmaceutical industry, and academic science.

Now, join me and John Wilbanks for The Long Run.