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.

Hal Barron, GSK

Break­ing the death spi­ral: Hal Bar­ron talks about trans­form­ing the mori­bund R&D cul­ture at GSK in a crit­i­cal year for the late-stage pipeline

Just ahead of GlaxoSmithKline’s Q2 update on Wednesday, science chief Hal Barron is making the rounds to talk up the pharma giant’s late-stage strategy as the top execs continue to woo back a deeply skeptical investor group while pushing through a whole new R&D culture.

And that’s not easy, Barron is quick to note. He told the Financial Times:

I think that culture, to some extent, is as hard, in fact even harder, than doing the science.

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UP­DAT­ED: Stay tuned: Bio­gen’s num­bers are great — it’s their wor­ri­some fu­ture that leaves an­a­lysts skit­tish

Biogen came out with an upbeat assessment of their Q2 numbers today, discounting the arrival of a key rival for its blockbuster Spinraza franchise. But the top execs remain grimly determined to not say much anything new about the sore points that have dragged down its stock, including the future of its big investment in Alzheimer’s or how it plans to invest the considerable cash that the big biotech continues to reap.

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Why wait? Cel­gene re­struc­tures a big Jounce pact — ze­ro­ing in on new I/O path­way with $530M deal and bump­ing ICOS

Celgene’s business team isn’t waiting for the big merger with Bristol-Myers Squibb to go through before syncing its strategy with the new mother ship.

Tuesday evening the big biotech unveiled a $530 million deal — $50 million in upfront cash — to amend their alliance with Jounce Therapeutics $JNCE to gain worldwide rights to JTX-8064, an antibody that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages. Their old, $2.6 billion deal is being scrapped, leaving Jounce with a pipeline that includes the lead drug, the ICOS-targeting vopratelimab.

PACT Phar­ma says it's per­fect­ed the tech to se­lect neoanti­gens for per­son­al­ized ther­a­py — now on­to the clin­ic

At PACT Pharma, the lofty goal to unleash a “tsunami” of T cells personalized for each patient has hinged on the ability to correctly identify the neoantigens that form something of a fingerprint for each tumor, and extract the small group of T cells primed to attack the cancer. It still has a long way to go testing a treatment in humans, but the biotech says it has nailed that highly technical piece of the process.

UP­DAT­ED: My­ovan­t's uter­ine fi­broid drug looks com­pet­i­tive in PhI­II — but can they van­quish mighty Ab­b­Vie?

Vivek Ramaswamy’s Myovant $MYOV has closely matched its positive first round of Phase III data for their uterine fibroid drug relugolix, setting up a head-to-head rivalry with pharma giant AbbVie as the little biotech steers to the market with a planned filing in Q4.

Here’s how Myovant plans to prevail over the AbbVie $ABBV empire.

In the study, 71.2% of women receiving once-daily relugolix combination therapy achieved the clinical response they were looking for, compared to only 14.7% in the control arm. The data comfortably reflected the same outcomes in the first Phase III — 73.4% of women receiving once-daily oral relugolix combination therapy achieved the responder criteria compared with 18.9% of women receiving placebo — which will reassure regulators that they are getting the carefully randomized data that qualifies for the FDA’s gold standard for success.

Lit­tle Mar­i­nus sees its shares eclipsed as the Sage ri­val fails to com­pare on PPD in PhII

The executive team at Sage $SAGE have skirted another potential pitfall on its way to racking up a big future for its depression drug Zulresso.

Little Marinus Pharmaceuticals $MRNS had sought to challenge the Sage drug with an IV formulation — followed by an oral version — of ganaxolone for postpartum depression. But researchers say their Phase II study failed to positively differentiate itself from a placebo at 28 days — leaving them to hold up “clinically meaningful” data within the first day of administration compared to the control arm.

Roche cuts loose Tam­i­flu OTC rights, hand­ing Sanofi the keys as the phar­ma gi­ant dou­bles down on Xofluza

Roche set out to make a better flu medicine than Tamiflu as that franchise was headed to a generic showdown. Now they’ll see just how well Xofluza stacks up against the mainstay drug after handing off over-the-counter rights in the US to Sanofi.

Sanofi $SNY says it will now step in to negotiate a deal with the FDA to steer Tamiflu into the OTC market, a role that could well involve new studies to ease passage of the drug out of doctor’s hands and into the consumer end of the market. And the French pharma giant will have first dibs over “selected” OTC markets around the world as they push ahead.

Aca­dia is mak­ing the best of it, but their lat­est PhI­II Nu­plazid study is a bust

Acadia’s late-stage program to widen the commercial prospects for Nuplazid has hit a wall. The biotech reported that their Phase III ENHANCE trial flat failed. And while they $ACAD did their best to cherry pick positive data wherever they can be found, this is a clear setback for the biotech.

With close to 400 patients enrolled, researchers said the drug flunked the primary endpoint as an adjunctive therapy for patients with an inadequate response to antipsychotic therapy. The p-value was an ugly 0.0940 on the Positive and Negative Syndrome Scale, which the company called out as a positive trend.

Their shares slid 12% on the news, good for a $426 million hit on a $3.7 billion market cap at close.

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Some Big Phar­mas stepped up their game on da­ta trans­paren­cy — but which flunked the test?

The nonprofit Bioethics International has come out with their latest scorecard on data transparency among the big biopharmas in the industry — flagging a few standouts while spotlighting some laggards who are continuing to underperform.

Now in its third year, the nonprofit created a new set of standards with Yale School of Medicine and Stanford Law School to evaluate the track record on trial registration, results reporting, publication and data-sharing practice.