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.

Roger Perlmutter. Merck via webcast

'Our lega­cy mat­ter­s': Mer­ck maps out Keytru­da king­dom while spot­light­ing ad­vances in vac­cines, hos­pi­tal care

“You can for the mo­ment stop tak­ing notes. You can put down your pens and your pad. I have no slides. I have no sub­stan­tive da­ta. I have no pitch.”

So be­gan Roger Perl­mut­ter’s brief ap­pear­ance on­stage at Mer­ck’s first in­vestor day in five years, where he dived in­to the com­pa­ny’s his­to­ry dat­ing back to 1933. The first em­ploy­ees at Mer­ck Re­search Lab­o­ra­to­ries, hand­picked by founder George W. Mer­ck, were crit­i­cal to Mer­ck’s abil­i­ty to achieve clin­i­cal and com­mer­cial suc­cess.

Eli Casdin, Casdin Capital

Eli Cas­din backs Codex­is' plat­form tech with $50M eq­ui­ty buy

About a month af­ter Codex­is notched a deal with No­var­tis $NVS, the Cal­i­for­nia com­pa­ny $CDXS on Thurs­day said long-time in­vestor Cas­din Cap­i­tal is putting up $50 mil­lion in a pri­vate place­ment, which puts the New York-based in­vest­ment firm in con­trol of more than 5% of the pro­tein en­gi­neer­ing play­er’s stock.

Eli Cas­din start­ed his epony­mous in­vest­ment firm in 2012 and dates his re­la­tion­ship with Codex­is back to at least a decade. About three years ago, Cas­din Cap­i­tal be­gan in­vest­ing in the in­dus­tri­al biotech com­pa­ny, af­ter it piv­ot­ed its fo­cus to the life sci­ences — un­der the aus­pices of new chief John Nicols — away from the en­er­gy in­dus­try.

How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

By Lucy Clos­sick Thom­son, Se­nior Di­rec­tor of On­col­o­gy Pro­ject Man­age­ment, Icon

Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

In­vestors pony up $476M for the lat­est round of biotech IPOs to hit the Street

Three biotechs — and a genome se­quenc­ing play­er — have caught the lat­est tide to the Gold Coast of IPOs, round­ing out the first half of 2019 with 23 new drug de­vel­op­ers mak­ing it on Nas­daq.

Most of these com­pa­nies filed their IPOs al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly, though we’re still wait­ing on word of fel­low class­mate Bridge­Bio’s pric­ing af­ter CEO Neil Ku­mar set the terms at $14 to $16 a share on Mon­day in search of a $240 mil­lion (or so) wind­fall. If he’s suc­cess­ful, that would take the one-week haul past the $700 mil­lion mark, a fresh sign that in­vestors’ en­thu­si­asm for new­ly coined pub­lic biotechs hasn’t cooled.

In starved an­tibi­ot­ic field, Melin­ta soars as FDA grants speedy drug re­view

Such is the state of af­fairs in an­tibi­ot­ic land that the FDA agree­ing to pri­or­i­ty re­view an ap­pli­ca­tion to ex­pand the use of an an­tibi­ot­ic can rock­et up a stock more than two-fold.

On Wednes­day, Melin­ta Ther­a­peu­tics said its ap­proved an­tibi­ot­ic Baxdela had been grant­ed pri­or­i­ty re­view for use in com­mu­ni­ty-ac­quired bac­te­r­i­al pneu­mo­nia (CAPB). The FDA is ex­pect­ed to make its de­ci­sion by Oc­to­ber 24. Shares of the Con­necti­cut drug­mak­er $ML­NT cat­a­pult­ed, clos­ing up near­ly 224% at $6.41.

Brent Saunders at an Endpoints News event in 2017 — File photo

An­a­lyst call with Al­ler­gan ex­ecs stokes an­tic­i­pa­tion of a plan to split the com­pa­ny in ‘a month or two’

So what’s up at Al­ler­gan?

Ear­li­er this week the ubiq­ui­tous Ever­core ISI an­a­lyst Umer Raf­fat was on the line with com­pa­ny ex­ec­u­tives to probe in­to the lat­est on the num­bers as well as CEO Brent Saun­ders’ re­cent de­c­la­ra­tion that he’d be do­ing some­thing de­fin­i­tive to help long-suf­fer­ing in­vestors who have watched their shares dwin­dle in val­ue.

He came away with the im­pres­sion that a sig­nif­i­cant com­pa­ny split is on the way. And not on some dis­tant time hori­zon.

Robert Forrester, Verastem

Ve­rastem CEO For­rester steps to the ex­it as the board hunts com­mer­cial-savvy ex­ec for the be­lea­guered biotech

Robert For­rester is step­ping down as CEO of Ve­rastem On­col­o­gy $VSTM just 8 months af­ter the com­pa­ny nabbed an ap­proval for du­velis­ib, a PI3K drug with a sto­ried past — and what ap­pears as not much of a fu­ture.

The biotech put out word this morn­ing that For­rester will take an ad­vi­so­ry role with Ve­rastem while COO Dan Pa­ter­son steps up to take charge of the lead­er­ship team and the board looks around for a new CEO.

John Reed at JPM 2019. Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News

Sanofi's John Reed con­tin­ues to re­or­ga­nize R&D, cut­ting 466 jobs while boost­ing can­cer, gene ther­a­py re­search

The R&D reorganization inside Sanofi is continuing, more than a year after the pharma giant brought in John Reed to head the research arm of the Paris-based company.
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The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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