Peer Review

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.



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