Venture Capital

Bill Haney believes there’s a better way to build a biotech — and now he has $100M more at Skyhawk to prove it

Bill Haney

Bill Haney wanted to do things differently when he launched Skyhawk Therapeutics at the beginning of the year with $8 million in seed cash from some unconventional biotech backers.

Now he has a $100 million more to focus the team on step 3: 

“I think we start driving drugs into the clinic,” he says.

Celgene — which has had more than its share of woes this year — will have a lot to do with that. The big biotech has uncorked one of its classic startup collaborations with Skyhawk, drawn by the emerging field of drugging RNA and the team of scientists at the biotech who are racing to get out front with the new platform play. 

Celgene is paying Haney and co-founder Kathleen McCarthy $60 million upfront to get them focused on a lineup of new neurosciences programs. The disease targets include amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS — and Huntington’s disease. And the company is buying an equity stake as well, contributing toward a $40 million raise alongside a group of investors that includes the Duke of Bedford, tech investor Greatpoint and Alexandria Venture Investments.

Kathleen McCarthy

Milestones? There Haney isn’t being specific, but he did volunteer that it’s bigger than the $2 billion package Celgene handed to Prothena when their execs aligned on a partnership aimed at constructing a new neurosciences pipeline.

Excited much? You could say that.

“I just love these guys,” says Haney, singling out longtime development vet Richard Hargreaves and his team at Celgene for the advice they’re getting. 

“You don’t want 4 hands on the wheel and co-drive,” he adds. But gaining advice to speed up the preclinical effort comes in mighty handy, along with Celgene’s endorsement of a technology that also includes key players like Mike Gilman’s Arrakis, Expansion Therapeutics and Ribometrix.

Haney is backing the work of McCarthy and her group of 25 staffers and FTEs working on the startup project. The Roche vet worked on the SMA drug RG7916 — a project that has now wound its way into pivotal trials. 

Richard Hargreaves

“We will do more partnerships,” says the CEO, “maybe one more this year.” He has some term sheets to look at and consider. In the meantime, the company has kept oncology for itself so far, looking to build its own pipeline.

Haney is still quite new to biotech, arriving with his other company Dragonfly, which he founded with MIT’s Tyler Jacks and David Raulet out of Berkeley. A documentary filmmaker and chairman of Blu Homes, Haney isn’t a fan of the Series A-B-C-D approach to raising money through the venture backers that fuel much of the work. Why hand out common shares to staff and preferred stock to these investors? And you have to consider that the VCs’ interests may not align so well with longterm company building.

So he’s been involved with family offices, working with investors like longtime friend and colleague Tim Disney and others when raising seed money. Haney has blazed a trail in the Boston/Cambridge biotech hub in short order. And he isn’t slowing down.

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