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.

Australia’s Avance Clinical: no IND required and a 43.5% rebate on clinical spend for CGT biotechs

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The cell and gene therapies (CGT) sector offers unprecedented opportunities for patient disease management across virtually all therapeutic areas. However, finding the right accredited clinical teams to take a therapy through to the clinic and manage the regulatory process can be a major challenge for biotechs with a CGT product.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Omi­cron: Re­searchers scram­ble as new coro­n­avirus mu­ta­tion takes flight around the globe — Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, Mod­er­na vow swift re­sponse

As Americans were waking up for their Black Friday rituals, they were greeted with the news that a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus has appeared and been sequenced — after it caught an international flight to Hong Kong. And two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine developers promised delivery of a new vaccine “within 100 days” if necessary while a third spelled out its 3-prong strategy hours later.

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Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; 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.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Am­gen, Lil­ly, Bio­haven mi­graine brand re­call low, study says; No­var­tis looks to re­make drug launch mod­el

Forget the migraine marketing brand wars. When it comes to patients, many can’t even name one despite substantial advertising efforts, according to a new study from Phreesia that concludes CGRP migraine drugmakers still need to work on brand recognition.

Almost half (47%) of the patients Phreesia surveyed couldn’t name one preventative migraine brand. The best performer was Topamax, a small molecule anticonvulsant that’s been around since 2004, which 26% of migraine patients could recall. Among the new CGRP brand names recognized, Amgen’s Aimovig ranked highest with 8% recall, while Eli Lilly’s Emgality and Biohaven’s Nurtec tied at 7% and Teva’s Ajovy was remembered by 3% of patients.

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What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

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Name that vac­cine: From Comir­naty to Spike­vax to Nu­vax­ovid, Covid-19 shot­s' brand names re­main lit­tle-known

Most people know if they’re “Team Pfizer” or “Team Moderna,” but few know if they got the Comirnaty or Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine. Those are the brand names of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, respectively, however they have yet to take hold with consumers, media or even medical professionals.

And there are others. Covid vaccine brand names also include AstraZeneca’s Vaxzevria, Novavax’s Nuvaxovid, and Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline’s Vidprevtyn. J&J’s Janssen-developed Covid vaccine is the lone major holdout and is still yet to be named, if ever. In EMA filings approving its conditional use, the brand name is listed simply as “Covid-19 Vaccine Janssen.”

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Troy Wilson, Kura CEO

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hits the red light on an ear­ly-stage AML study af­ter a pa­tient dies

The FDA has slapped a clinical hold on the early-stage program for one of Kura Oncology’s cancer drugs following a patient’s death in a clinical trial.

The biotech $KURA reported early Wednesday that the Phase Ib study of KO-539 for acute myeloid leukemia would be halted, suspending enrollment, while researchers and the FDA probed the death. Patients already on the drug can continue taking it.

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Emma Walmsley, GlaxoSmithKline CEO (Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Alamy Live News)

Glax­o­SmithK­line places a risky bet on Ar­row­head­'s RNA drug in the fail­ure-strewn NASH field

As activist investors champ at the bit for change at drug giant GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma giant has turned over many rocks to find an R&D success to present to its detractors. In NASH, a field strewn with failures, GSK hopes a new license deal can churn out a much-needed winner.

GSK will pay $120 million in upfront cash and $910 million in downstream milestones to develop and sell ARO-HSD, Arrowhead Pharmaceuticals’ RNA interference drug targeting fatty liver disease nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the companies said Monday.

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Joan Perelló, Sanifit CEO

Joan Perel­ló set out 17 years ago to de­vel­op a drug. And to­day he's be­ing re­ward­ed with a $424M biotech buy­out

Joan Perelló beat all the odds with his little Spanish biotech startup Sanifit.

Working on the far perimeter of the big US/European drug development scene, he took a drug born out of his PhD work and got enough seed cash to get started. That’s one near miracle. In the second near miracle he gathered a previously unheard of venture raise in Spain — helping build an industry ecosystem from scratch — to pursue a successful search for solid human data for his drug, SNF472. And while gathering a virtual team of developers from Europe and the US, the CEO/co-founder steered it into the late-stage arena.

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