Grail vet Ba­jaj aims for some broad in­flu­ence with Fore­site bucks

Biotech has lost an­oth­er top ex­ec­u­tive to the al­lure of fi­nance. Vikram Ba­jaj, just one year in­to his job as chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at Grail, has joined the ranks of Sil­i­con Val­ley VCs.

Vikram Ba­jaj

Ba­jaj is tak­ing a full-time gig as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of SF-based Fore­site Cap­i­tal, a VC and pri­vate eq­ui­ty firm where Ba­jaj hopes to have a big­ger im­pact mov­ing sci­ence for­ward. Fore­site closed a $450 mil­lion fund back in 2015, and ap­pears to still be mak­ing in­vest­ments from that pool. With $1.2 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment, Fore­site has made bets on a few big names in­clud­ing Juno, Nan­tK­west, and Grail, Ba­jaj’s for­mer em­ploy­er.

Grail is a high-fly­ing start­up try­ing to make a test that de­tects can­cer ear­ly. Oth­er than its am­bi­tious goals, Grail is prob­a­bly best known for rais­ing $1 bil­lion in un­der two years. It’s al­so known for its c-suite of ex-Googlers (al­though many are now mov­ing on).

But work­ing at a whizbang start­up ap­pears to have on­ly whet­ted Ba­jaj’s ap­petite for in­no­va­tion. He tells me en­ter­ing the VC world is ex­cit­ing be­cause ac­cess to mon­ey means he’ll have a wider im­pact.

“It puts me in a unique po­si­tion to have in­flu­ence in a va­ri­ety of ar­eas, not just one com­pa­ny, but across dif­fer­ent seg­ments of our in­dus­try,” Ba­jaj said.

He’s par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ed in the com­pa­nies that com­bine da­ta sci­ence and hu­man bi­ol­o­gy, which is sort of his do­main. On top of be­ing the co-founder of Ver­i­ly (for­mer­ly Google Life Sci­ences), Ba­jaj al­so led lab­o­ra­to­ry and da­ta sci­ence teams at Grail. And as a for­mer aca­d­e­m­ic re­searcher, Ba­jaj and his col­lab­o­ra­tors have de­vel­oped nan­otech and oth­er tools that were lat­er com­mer­cial­ized by star­tups.

Ba­jaj said per­son­al­ized med­i­cine — with the help of da­ta sci­ence — is on­ly get­ting start­ed. He thinks it’s a good time to en­ter this space as an in­vestor, with cash to move the right tech­nolo­gies for­ward.

“I think we’re poised for mas­sive change as se­quenc­ing costs go down and med­i­cine be­comes more pre­cise as a re­sult of this ex­plo­sion of da­ta,” Ba­jaj said.

Fore­site plans to tap his knowl­edge of the space to spot promis­ing star­tups to in­vest in.

“I’ve known of Vik years through his pre­vi­ous roles,” Fore­site’s CEO Jim Tanan­baum tells me. “His ex­per­tise in the field and team-ori­ent­ed and hum­ble ap­proach to his work makes him an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to our high­ly col­lab­o­ra­tive team here at Fore­site Cap­i­tal. He brings a unique mix of skills and ex­pe­ri­ence that will be par­tic­u­lar­ly help­ful as we ex­pand on our in­vest­ments in pre­ci­sion med­i­cine.”

Ba­jaj said Fore­site’s stage-ag­nos­tic in­vest­ment strat­e­gy was re­fresh­ing, and a ma­jor rea­son he want­ed to join the firm.

“There are no ar­bi­trary bar­ri­ers to in­vest­ing at a par­tic­u­lar stage,” Ba­jaj said. “We can in­vest any­where from the seed stage through to pub­lic liq­uid­i­ty and be­yond. I like this ap­proach be­cause health care star­tups are dif­fer­ent from oth­er tech­nol­o­gy star­tups: the time hori­zon is longer, the prob­lems more com­plex, and the reg­u­la­to­ry en­vi­ron­ment more chal­leng­ing to nav­i­gate.”

Ba­jaj will be sta­tioned at the com­pa­ny’s SF of­fice in the Transamer­i­ca Pyra­mid.

Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Earlier this year, an executive from Juvenescence-backed AgeX predicted the field of longevity will eventually “dwarf the dotcom boom.” Greg Bailey, the UK-based anti-aging biotech’s CEO, certainly hopes so.

On Monday, Juvenescence completed its $100 million series B round of financing. The company is backed by British billionaire Jim Mellon — who wrote his 400-page guide to investing in the field of longevity shortly after launching the company in 2017.  Bailey, who served as a board director for seven years at Medivation before Pfizer swallowed the biotech for $14 billion, is joined by Declan Doogan, an industry veteran with stints at Pfizer and Amarin.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.

As dis­as­ter struck, Ab­b­Vie’s Rick Gon­za­lez swooped in on Al­ler­gan with an of­fer Brent Saun­ders couldn’t say no to

Early March was a no good, awful, terrible time for Allergan CEO Brent Saunders. His big lead drug had imploded in a Phase III disaster and activists were after his hide — or at least his chairman’s title — as the stock price continued a steady droop that had eviscerated share value for investors.

But it was a perfect time for AbbVie CEO Rick Gonzalez to pick up the phone and ask Saunders if he’d like to consider a “strategic” deal.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

CEO Pascal Soriot via Getty Images

As­traZeneca's jug­ger­naut PARP play­er Lyn­parza scoops up an­oth­er dom­i­nant win in PhI­II as the FDA adds a 'break­through' for Calquence

AstraZeneca’s oncology R&D group under José Baselga keeps churning out hits.

Wednesday morning the pharma giant and their partners at Merck parted the curtains on a successful readout for their Phase III PAOLA-1 study, demonstrating statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival for women with ovarian cancer in a first-line maintenance setting who added their PARP Lynparza to Avastin. This is their second late-stage success in ovarian cancer, which will help stave off rivals like GSK.

Endpoints News

Basic subscription required

Unlock this story instantly and join 57,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.