People, Rare Diseases, Venture Capital

Shkreli out, Cuban in: Twitter proves essential for biotech rebel Ethan Perlstein

Image: Ethan Perlstein


Entrepreneurs in the tech world often tell fundraising founders to look to Twitter for making connections with investors. It’s less common to see biotech investments arise from witty tweets.

Not true for Ethan Perlstein, the founder of a small biotech in San Francisco called Perlara. Today, he shared details of a random Twitter encounter with celebrity investor Mark Cuban that led to Cuban’s fund Radical Investments chipping in $250,000 to Perlara’s $7.4 million Series A round.

Cuban’s contribution was the result of a conversation on Twitter with Perlstein, who’s quite active on the biopharma twittersphere. As Perlstein recalls, he had teased the Shark Tank investor for Cuban’s tweet about drug pricing during the debate over Spinraza’s price tag.

The conversation turned serious after Perlstein shared more details about early-stage drug discovery in biopharma.

“His tweet indicated that he hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the ins and outs of biopharma and tech transfer,” Perlstein said. “The next thing I know, I get a message from him asking for my pitch deck. I was like, ‘is this a joke?’”

A month later, Cuban’s investment firm was on board. According to Cuban, he likes the idea of supporting drug discovery for rare disease.

“I want to see more people helped by orphan drugs,” Cuban said in an email.

The Martin Shkreli dollars

But this wasn’t the first time a Twitter conversation led to an investment for Perlstein’s company. Before Martin Shkreli’s public flaying (and felony conviction), Perlstein and Shkreli were also exchanging tweets.

“I wasn’t asking people for investment on Twitter or anything, I was just commenting on science for rare disease,” Perlstein said. “It caught Martin’s attention.”

After the Twitter conversation, Shkreli invested in Perlara and was involved with the company for a short time. But Perlstein said he asked Shkreli to extricate himself from the business in early 2016.

“I asked him to be bought out by other shareholders,” Perlstein said. “Now he’s out of the cap table and out of the company. He can destroy your reputation just by association. Plus, I had learned he wasn’t a good person to do business with.”

A biotech born from Twitter

Perlstein said Twitter has actually played an integral role in the development of Perlara.

“After the postdocalypse, I left academia,” Perlstein said. “Twitter was the place I was reborn professional. I can honestly say that Perlara wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Twitter.”

Perlara is working on six drug programs for ultra-rare diseases, including lysosomal storage diseases. Since the company’s 2014 inception, it’s largely relied on partnerships with patient groups. Last year, however, it landed a research partnership with Novartis. After hitting its milestones on that deal, Perlara just received some extra financial support from Novartis in its latest Series A round, announced this morning.

The total equity round ($7.4 million) included with cash from investors Pivotal Capital Alpha, Al-Hamra Group, Homebrew Ventures, Haystack Fund and existing investors.


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