Google Ven­tures’ Kr­ish­na Yesh­want is hunt­ing for the next big new idea in biotech

Kr­ish­na Yesh­want

Bill Maris brought in Kr­ish­na Yesh­want as a Google Ven­tures part­ner back in the ear­ly days of 2009. The Har­vard MD/MBA with a com­put­er sci­ences back­ground at Stan­ford and a track record of his own start­ing and sell­ing soft­ware com­pa­nies had that blend of ed­u­ca­tion, youth­ful ex­pe­ri­ence and cross-pol­li­nat­ing in­tel­lect Google want­ed to bring to its in­vest­ment group.

Maris is leav­ing now, but Yesh­want is stay­ing put, run­ning a cross-coun­try life sci­ences team that con­tin­ues to hunt out pre-fledg­ling in­vest­ments in biotech. Where most VCs in the biotech world op­er­ate with a very clear ex­it strat­e­gy — whether they’re go­ing for the long throw of a dis­tant IPO or a quick val­ue mak­er 12 months from the first mon­ey in — Yesh­want and his crew mem­bers are hap­py to play the long game, with­out keep­ing an eye on the clock.

They proved that with Yesh­want’s first in­vest­ment, when Google Ven­tures — now brand­ed sim­ply GV — backed Till­man Gern­gross’s an­ti­body pro­duc­tion shop Adimab, near Dart­mouth.

“In a big way, Till­man took a bet on us,” Yesh­want tells me of the then new­ly spawned ven­ture group and his own new ca­reer in VC.

Adimab wasn’t go­ing for the quick flip, an IPO or any kind of overnight suc­cess that would make Google sud­den­ly rich­er. But that wasn’t the point. Now val­ued at more than half a tril­lion dol­lars, the moth­er ship at the on­line search en­gine-turned-tech-con­glom­er­ate isn’t try­ing to im­press any­one with its abil­i­ty to pick win­ners. What it does want to do, through its ven­ture teams like the one Yesh­want leads, is back peo­ple work­ing on ideas that can of­fer a last­ing, re­al im­pact on so­ci­ety.

For most VCs, that might sound a tri­fle glib. Google’s track record, though, backs it up.

Yesh­want is the po­lar op­po­site of a late-stage in­vestor. He and his team like to get start­ed dis­cussing com­pa­nies while they are still in the idea stage. Big ideas in in­fec­tious dis­eases (and where it blends in­to can­cer R&D), di­ag­nos­tics, rheuma­tol­ogy (which over­laps with their im­munol­o­gy work) as well as the whole pay­er/provider uni­verse are top of mind these days. Im­muno-on­col­o­gy, which has been ex­plod­ing with new re­search pacts this year, is still just scratch­ing the sur­face of its po­ten­tial, says Yesh­want.

Yesh­want’s ex­it strat­e­gy: “We think of it dif­fer­ent­ly,” he says, gaug­ing suc­cess by the “im­pact on the pa­tient.” Ex­its are on the back burn­er. Mak­ing new en­trances and tack­ling big ideas, that’s what at­tracts the at­ten­tion of Google’s ven­ture play­ers.

Google’s ven­ture group is by no means de­vot­ed en­tire­ly to life sci­ences, but it has made the high risk/high re­ward in­dus­try its biggest sin­gle fo­cus. Adimab has been fol­lowed by a string of biotech in­vest­ments in com­pa­nies like Forty Sev­en, an on­col­o­gy start­up that re­cent­ly sprang out of the lab of Stan­ford’s Irv Weiss­man with a re­mark­ably ad­vanced plan for hu­man test­ing. And there was an ear­ly stake in Ed­i­tas, one of a small group of gene edit­ing up­starts that hope to use CRISPR/Cas9 tech to rev­o­lu­tion­ize med­i­cine—years from now. One of GV’s biggest in­vest­ments is in the Big Da­ta out­fit Flat­iron as well as Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine, which is us­ing emerg­ing mol­e­c­u­lar in­for­ma­tion to guide treat­ment.

Yesh­want likes to play in the messy, wreck-filled in­ter­sec­tions of health­care that need the most help, like the point of con­tact be­tween pay­ers and pa­tients.

“We try to ig­nore dis­tinc­tions,” says Yesh­want, “and start to think of the big ar­eas that need to be worked on.”

Longevi­ty fig­ures promi­nent­ly in its think­ing. In­evitably, that turns to com­ments on dis­rupt­ing no­tions about life span and at­ten­tion-grab­bing head­lines built on liv­ing hun­dreds of years. But that can be a dis­trac­tion as well. GV may be think­ing of the longterm, but its com­pa­nies are al­so mak­ing prac­ti­cal ad­vances, blue­print­ing clin­i­cal sched­ules and deal­ing with the re­al­i­ties of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment — with­in the cur­rent con­structs of a nor­mal life span. GV is fo­cused on the “un­der­ly­ing mech­a­nisms of ag­ing,” says Yesh­want, like Google start­up Cal­i­co. And they’re fol­low­ing that in­to dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies which are trekking a path that leads to dis­eases which can be ad­dressed by new tech­nol­o­gy.

It’s a dif­fer­ent way of look­ing at drug de­vel­op­ment from a ven­ture group that prides it­self in em­brac­ing dif­fer­ent ways of think­ing.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

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Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

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The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Almost two years after first buying into Genor Biopharma’s pipeline of cancer and autoimmune therapies, Hillhouse Capital has led a $160 million cash injection to push the late-stage assets over the finish line while continuing to fund both internal R&D and dealmaking.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

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