Ex­o­dus of Ex-Googlers at Sil­i­con Val­ley's sex­i­est biotech star­tups

A cu­ri­ous num­ber of high pro­file ex-Googlers are bail­ing from Sil­i­con Val­ley’s sex­i­est biotech star­tups, with many end­ing up in de­cid­ed­ly more tra­di­tion­al bio­phar­ma roles.

Hal Bar­ron

Just this morn­ing, Cal­i­co, the stealthy Google start­up delv­ing in­to the ag­ing process, lost in­dus­try gu­ru Hal Bar­ron. The guy is best known for his role at Genen­tech, where he helped change the face of can­cer drug de­vel­op­ment as CMO. Back in 2013, he joined the su­per-se­cre­tive Cal­i­co as pres­i­dent of R&D. But now Bar­ron is ab­di­cat­ing start­up life — and its as­so­ci­at­ed glam — as the new head of R&D at Glax­o­SmithK­line.

Vik Ba­jaj

Then there’s Vik Ba­jaj. He’s a co-founder and the for­mer CSO for Google’s life sci­ence start­up Ver­i­ly (which used to be called Google Life Sci­ences). Last Sep­tem­ber, he left Ver­i­ly to join Grail, an­oth­er high-fly­ing Sil­i­con Val­ley start­up. This one was found­ed by San Diego’s Il­lu­mi­na, but was backed, in part, by Google Ven­tures and oth­er big names in San Fran­cis­co tech (Ama­zon, Be­zos Ex­pe­di­tions, Bill Gates, etc.). Af­ter a year on the job, Ba­jaj just left Grail to join the ranks of SF ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists at Fore­site Cap­i­tal.

Those are the su­per-re­cent moves, but there’s more. Jeff Hu­ber, an ex-se­nior Google ex­ec­u­tive, stepped down from his role as CEO of Grail last Au­gust. He fol­lowed Franz Och, the guy who built Google Trans­late. Och had on­ly been at Grail for one year head­ing up its da­ta sci­ence de­part­ment, be­fore tak­ing his ex­it this Oc­to­ber, Buz­zfeed re­ports.

All of this move­ment at Grail and Cal­i­co comes less than two years af­ter a ma­jor ex­ec­u­tive shake­up at Google’s Ver­i­ly.

What do all these biotech star­tups have in com­mon oth­er than Google con­nec­tions and ties to Big Tech? They’re all work­ing am­bi­tious — even rad­i­cal — ideas. Grail hopes to make a sim­ple blood test that would rapid­ly de­tect can­cer ear­ly in its pro­gres­sion. Cal­i­co wants to com­bat the ag­ing process and its as­so­ci­at­ed dis­eases. Ver­i­ly… well, does any­one know what Ver­i­ly’s do­ing? Its work is in per­pet­u­al stealth, it seems, but projects in­clude col­lect­ing mas­sive amounts of health da­ta and mak­ing con­tact lens­es that de­tect glu­cose lev­els in users.

Per­haps the sta­bil­i­ty of Big Phar­ma — and yes, even ven­ture cap­i­tal — is pre­ferred to the ups and downs of these moon­shot ini­tia­tives?

Ei­ther way, it’s im­por­tant to ac­knowl­edge that Al­pha­bet, Google’s par­ent com­pa­ny, is a mas­sive em­pire with a fam­i­ly tree that’s as dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed as it is large. Still, an ex­ec­u­tive ex­o­dus is in­ter­est­ing, and we’re keep­ing an eye on the shuf­fle.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Justin Klee (L) and Joshua Cohen, Amylyx co-CEOs (Cody O'Loughlin/The New York Times; courtesy Amylyx)

Ad­vo­cates, ex­perts cry foul over Amy­lyx's new ALS drug, cit­ing is­sues with price, PhI­II com­mit­ment

Not 24 hours after earning the first ALS drug approval in five years, Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ Relyvrio is already drawing scrutiny. And it’s coming from multiple fronts.

In an investor call Friday morning, Amylyx revealed that it would charge about $158,000 per year, a price point that immediately drew backlash from ALS advocates and some outside observers. The cost reveal had been highly anticipated in the immediate hours after Thursday evening’s approval, though Amylyx only teased Relyvrio would cost less than previously approved drugs.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)

Can a smart­phone app de­tect Covid? Pfiz­er throws down $116M to find out

What can a cough say about a patient’s illness? Quite a bit, according to ResApp Health — and Pfizer’s listening.

The pharma giant is shelling out about $116 million ($179 million AUD) to scoop up the University of Queensland spinout and its smartphone technology that promises to diagnose Covid and other respiratory illnesses based on cough and breathing sounds, the university announced last week.

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Big Phar­ma heavy­weights seek tweaks to FDA's clin­i­cal out­come as­sess­ment guid­ance

Pfizer, GSK, Janssen, Regeneron, Boehringer Ingelheim and at least a half dozen other companies are calling on the FDA to provide significantly more clarity in its draft guidance from this summer on clinical outcome assessments, which are a type of patient experience.

The draft is the third in a series of four patient-focused drug development guidance documents that the FDA had to create as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, and they describe how stakeholders (patients, caregivers, researchers, medical product developers and others) can collect and submit patient experience data and other relevant information for medical product development and regulatory decision-making.

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Severin Schwan, outgoing Roche CEO (via Getty Images)

Roche hires new di­ag­nos­tics chief from with­in, ahead of C-suite shake-up

More than two months after Severin Schwan announced he’s leaving Roche and handing the reins to diagnostics chief Thomas Schinecker, the pharma giant has revealed who’s taking Schinecker’s place.

Matt Sause, who currently leads Roche’s North American diagnostics business, is popping the cork on the big global promotion to take effect on March 15. The 20-year Roche veteran has served a handful of roles across the company’s diagnostics and pharma units, including a stint at Genentech where he was lifecycle leader for blockbuster Tecentriq’s head and neck cancer programs.

Rob Etherington, Clene CEO

Star­tup's gold nanocrys­tal ALS drug flops a PhII tri­al, a re­minder of the dis­ease's ob­sta­cles de­spite Amy­lyx OK

Despite the FDA approving an ALS drug for the first time in five years last week, the disease continues to fluster researchers, and another biotech is feeling the pain of a mid-stage failure.

Clene Nanomedicine reported early Monday that its ALS program, which uses gold nanocrystals to try to catalyze intracellular reactions, did not achieve its Phase II primary or secondary endpoints. And in a press release, the company noted for the first time that it’s speaking with “potential strategic partners” about the program — language that typically indicates a biotech is preparing to sell off an asset.

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Marc Dunoyer, Alexion CEO (AstraZeneca via YouTube)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca nabs a small rare dis­ease gene ther­a­py play­er for 667% pre­mi­um

AstraZeneca is kicking off the fourth quarter with a little M&A Monday for a gene editing player recently overcoming a second clinical hold to its only program in human studies.

The Big Pharma and its subsidiary Alexion are buying out little LogicBio for $2.07 per share. That’s good for a massive 667% premium over its Friday closing price, when it headed into the weekend at 27 cents and just weeks after Nasdaq said LogicBio would have to delist, which has been put on hold as the biotech requests a hearing. It’s one of two biotech deals to commence October, alongside the news of Incyte buying a vitiligo-focused biotech.

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Land­mark Amy­lyx OK spurs de­bate; Some... pos­i­tive? Alzheimer's da­ta; Can­cer tri­al bot­tle­neck; Sanofi's CRISPR bet; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

After brief stops in Paris and Boston, John Carroll and the Endpoints crew are staying on the road in October with their return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London. The hybrid event fireside chats and panels on mRNA, oncology and the crazy public market. We hope you can join him there.

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