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.
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.
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.
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