Rais­ing a record $668M in new fund, Fore­site sets sights on a tech-dri­ven port­fo­lio

Af­ter build­ing up its tech tal­ent with the re­cruit­ment of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s fa­vorite CSO Vikram Ba­jaj, Fore­site Cap­i­tal has closed $668 mil­lion for its fourth and largest fund — and it’s set­ting aside a de­cent chunk of that cash for com­pa­nies com­bin­ing da­ta sci­ence with life sci­ences.

Jim Tanan­baum

The fo­cus of the fund should come as no sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing Fore­site’s re­cent in­vest­ments and its move to re­cruit Ba­jaj last year. Ba­jaj came to Fore­site from the Il­lu­mi­na spin­out Grail, which is best known for rais­ing $1 bil­lion in less than two years (and for its C suite of ex-Googlers). He al­so is a co-founder and for­mer CSO for Google’s life sci­ence start­up Ver­i­ly.

When Ba­jaj joined in No­vem­ber, he told me he was par­tic­u­lar­ly in­ter­est­ed in the com­pa­nies that com­bine da­ta sci­ence and hu­man bi­ol­o­gy, which is sort of his do­main. On top of his Ver­i­ly roots, 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, which was found­ed in 2011, now has $2 bil­lion in as­sets un­der man­age­ment, and it ranked pret­ty high in our most re­cent list of 100 top VCs in biotech. Com­ing in at num­ber 12, Fore­site did 23 deals in 2017. That in­cludes chip­ping in $15 mil­lion for Grail’s syn­di­cate and al­most $17 mil­lion for Col­or Ge­nomics. And in Fore­site’s port­fo­lio are the likes of 10x Ge­nomics, Intar­cia Ther­a­peu­tics, and Aerie Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Phil Kal­los

Fore­site has been work­ing to beef up its da­ta sci­ence and ma­chine learn­ing ex­per­tise in re­cent years, the com­pa­ny said. At the same time as Ba­jaj’s re­cruit­ment, Fore­site al­so hired Phil Kal­los, a new di­rec­tor of en­gi­neer­ing. A com­pa­ny spokesper­son said Fore­site had made “sev­er­al” per­son­nel ad­di­tions to fu­el their ef­forts in an­a­lyt­ics and ma­chine learn­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate the com­pa­ny’s re­search and mod­el­ing ef­forts.”

Fore­site’s founder and CEO Jim Tanan­baum says they’re build­ing ex­per­tise that will be crit­i­cal in mak­ing in­vest­ment de­ci­sions down the road.

“We not on­ly pro­vide cap­i­tal, but al­so a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary team of sci­en­tists, clin­i­cians, an­a­lysts and en­gi­neers who col­lab­o­rate to seek the best da­ta-dri­ven de­ci­sions. The abil­i­ty to in­gest and de­rive mean­ing from mas­sive amounts of com­plex in­for­ma­tion is a crit­i­cal suc­cess fac­tor in health­care in­vest­ing,” Tanan­baum said in a state­ment. “We’re pleased by the con­fi­dence and en­thu­si­asm our Fund IV in­vestors have demon­strat­ed in the Fore­site Cap­i­tal team, as well as the progress made by our rapid­ly de­vel­op­ing port­fo­lio.”

Im­age: Vikram Ba­jaj. Elis­a­beth Fall, Fall­Fo­to via Fore­site

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Covid-19 man­u­fac­tur­ing roundup: Mary­land looks to grow biotech ca­pac­i­ty with $400M check; Rus­sia lands sec­ond Sput­nik V part­ner this week

A Maryland real estate project has added three new biotech-focused manufacturing and research buildings to an office park to keep up with demand created by the pandemic, the Washington Business Journal reported.

The Milestone Business Park — located off of I-270 in Germantown, MD — will see the new buildings and a total of 532,000 square feet as the campus rebrands to Milestone Innovation Park.

Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Steffen Schuster, ITM CEO

Ra­dio­phar­ma re­mains hot as Ger­many's ITM rais­es $109M to ad­vance neu­roen­docrine can­cer pro­gram

The world of radiopharmaceuticals has been heating up over the last few years, and Thursday saw another company focused on the field pull in a new nine-figure raise.

Germany’s ITM, or Isotopen Technologien München, scored a $109 million round of loan financing to push forward its precision oncology pipeline and fund late-stage development for its lead program. As part of the agreement, the loan will convert to shares in the event of future financial or corporate transactions, ITM said.

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.