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.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Martin Landray, Protas CEO (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Those big bil­lion-dol­lar PhI­II stud­ies? Mar­tin Lan­dray says they can be done for a tiny frac­tion of the cost

Martin Landray knows what controversy in clinical drug development feels like, from first-hand experience.

Landray was the chief architect of RECOVERY, a study that pitted a variety of drugs against Covid-19. And he offered some landmark data that would help push dexamethasone out into broader use as a cheap treatment, while helping ice hydroxy’s reputation as a clear misfire.

“Lots of people told us we shouldn’t use it,” Landray says about dexamethasone and Covid-19. “It was dangerous. We shouldn’t even do a trial. They also cared about hydroxychloroquine and lots of people said we shouldn’t do a trial because it must be used. I’ve got the letters from both sets of people.”

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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James Dentzer, Curis CEO

FDA lifts par­tial hold on Curis' lym­phoma study — shares spike

Four months after the FDA put two clinical trials from Curis on clinical hold, the FDA is now apparently content with how the biotech will change up managing one of the studies.

The Massachusetts oncology biotech put out word early Thursday that the federal regulator lifted a partial clinical hold of the company’s Phase I/II study of emavusertib in lymphoma, following a new data package that the biotech recently submitted to the agency. Shares of the biotech $CRIS, hovering just above penny stock territory, shot up more than 55% in early trading before settling at close to a 30% share price boost.

Astel­las' hot flash­es drug will get speedy re­view at FDA; US opts out of Val­ne­va vac­cine

The FDA will decide on Astellas’ menopausal symptom drug by Feb. 22 of next year, as the Japanese pharma disclosed it had paid about $97 million to get a priority review voucher to speed up the review.

Astellas said the agency has accepted the pharma’s application for fezolinetant for the treatment of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms (VMS) associated with menopause. VMS includes hot flashes and/or night sweats. The company said as many as 80% of women in the US experience those symptoms during or after the menopausal transition.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”