Vi­da Ven­tures: Pow­er­ing Break­throughs in Bio­phar­ma

By RBC Cap­i­tal Mar­kets
With Ar­jun Goy­al, Co-Founder and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Vi­da Ven­tures

Key Points

  • Vi­da Ven­tures is at the fore­front of in­vest­ing in biotech in­no­va­tion, and they are fo­cused on key modal­i­ties like gene ther­a­py, on­col­o­gy and rare dis­eases.
  • A ma­jor in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ty in on­col­o­gy is the trend from au­tol­o­gous to al­lo­gene­ic ther­a­pies that can be batch processed, stored in a fridge and rapid­ly giv­en to pa­tients.
  • The next gen­er­a­tion of com­pa­nies that can de­liv­er new gene ther­a­py for­mats that will be safer, less tox­ic, and eas­i­er to man­u­fac­ture.
  • Phar­ma con­tin­ues to ac­cess in­no­va­tion through M&A and the IPO win­dow will al­ways be open for strong sci­ence, man­age­ment, and in­vestors.

In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view on RBC Cap­i­tal Mar­kets’ new Pathfind­ers pod­cast se­ries, Lu­ca Is­si, Se­nior Biotech An­a­lyst at RBC Cap­i­tal Mar­kets, speaks with Ar­jun Goy­al, Co-Founder and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Vi­da Ven­tures, a next gen­er­a­tion life sci­ences ven­ture cap­i­tal firm.

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Find out why Ar­jun is pas­sion­ate about in­vest­ing in re­al in­no­va­tion and the pur­pose be­hind Vi­da Ven­tures, as well as Ar­jun’s take on emerg­ing modal­i­ties and in­vestor trends in to­day’s unique mar­ket.

Lis­ten to the full in­ter­view on Pathfind­ers, a new pod­cast from RBC for com­pa­nies and in­vestors in bio­phar­ma. Start lis­ten­ing now.

Lu­ca Is­si
What is the big pic­ture mis­sion of Vi­da Ven­tures? What is it that makes the firm tick?

Ar­jun Goy­al
I think there are sev­er­al key things that en­er­gize us at Vi­da. First­ly, it’s work­ing with en­tre­pre­neurs, sci­en­tists, and in­vestors to de­vel­op the next gen­er­a­tion of im­pact­ful cu­ra­tive med­i­cines. That’s core to our the­sis. Many of us at Vi­da come from back­grounds as physi­cians or sci­en­tists, so we’re pas­sion­ate about the new cu­ra­tive modal­i­ties that are ap­pear­ing.

Sec­ond­ly, we like to work with en­tre­pre­neurs to help them be cre­ative about putting their com­pa­nies and pipelines to­geth­er, and to help them ac­cess pri­vate and pub­lic cap­i­tal to fu­el their growth.

Fi­nal­ly, we’re ex­cit­ed by what we see as an in­cred­i­ble time in bio­phar­ma. There’s been such mat­u­ra­tion of the in­dus­try in the last few years with rich, boun­ti­ful in­no­va­tion and cap­i­tal in­flows. All of that re­al­ly en­er­gizes us.

What’s the se­cret to find­ing trans­for­ma­tive tech­nolo­gies in those deep pock­ets of sci­ence where oth­ers on­ly see risk?

I think of it like this. Risk in biotech is like beau­ty. It’s in the eye of the be­hold­er. Where many peo­ple see risks, we see op­por­tu­ni­ties.

There are sev­er­al rea­sons why. The first is our back­ground as physi­cian-sci­en­tists. We know the rules of the game. That gives us com­fort that we can de-risk the sci­ence.

The sec­ond is our fo­cus on key modal­i­ties like gene ther­a­py, on­col­o­gy and rare dis­eases, so that we know those ar­eas in­ti­mate­ly as re­searchers, as en­tre­pre­neurs, and as in­vestors.

The third is that we work with syn­di­cate part­ners who are equal­ly, if not more, savvy about these spaces, so we’re al­ways look­ing at how we can lever­age their in­sights, their tal­ents, and their cap­i­tal.

You men­tioned your fo­cus on on­col­o­gy. What do you think are the cur­rent lim­i­ta­tions of cell ther­a­pies?

For me, the fun­da­men­tal lim­i­ta­tions in cell ther­a­py and on­col­o­gy are around ac­ces­si­bil­i­ty and man­u­fac­tur­ing. First-gen­er­a­tion ther­a­pies have been au­tol­o­gous treat­ments that are dif­fi­cult to ac­cess and very ex­pen­sive.

So, a ma­jor op­por­tu­ni­ty we have as in­vestors is the trend from au­tol­o­gous to al­lo­gene­ic ther­a­pies that can be batch processed, stored in a fridge and rapid­ly giv­en to pa­tients.

Cell ther­a­pies have shown tremen­dous clin­i­cal ben­e­fits in blood and liq­uid tu­mors. But when it comes to on­col­o­gy, on­ly about 10% of tu­mors are liq­uid tu­mors – the oth­er 90% are sol­id tu­mors that have been in­sen­si­tive to cell ther­a­py.

Fig­ur­ing out how we use cell ther­a­py in sol­id tu­mors is an­oth­er ma­jor op­por­tu­ni­ty for us. That’s a par­a­digm shift.

Piv­ot­ing to tar­get ther­a­pies, there are some per­cep­tions that old school small mol­e­cule med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry is dead. Can you talk about that and the ra­tio­nale be­hind your in­vest­ments in Kin­nate and Kro­nos Bio?

I do be­lieve that was a first-gen­er­a­tion ap­proach where you had non-se­lec­tive chem­istry go­ing af­ter val­i­dat­ed tar­gets. The new gen­er­a­tion is lever­ag­ing new tools, many of which are com­pu­ta­tion­al, to get to an end­point where you’re go­ing af­ter the so-called un­drug­gable tar­gets that we know to be rel­e­vant to can­cer.

We’ve nev­er had the ca­pa­bil­i­ties to go af­ter them se­lec­tive­ly be­fore. Now we have the tools, whether it’s de­graders as a chem­istry modal­i­ty, whether it’s us­ing var­i­ous com­pu­ta­tion­al tech­niques, AI, da­ta sci­ences or pro­tein mo­tion vi­su­al­iza­tion.

That’s what’s dri­ving the in­ter­est we’ve seen in some of our port­fo­lio com­pa­nies like Pelo­ton Ther­a­peu­tics, go­ing af­ter HIP2 al­pha se­lec­tive­ly, or in Kro­nos Bio, which is go­ing off to var­i­ous tran­scrip­tion fac­tors, or in Kin­nate, which is go­ing af­ter those spe­cif­ic re­sis­tant mu­tants.

What is the cy­cle of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion in bio­phar­ma? Find out more on RBC’s Pathfind­ers in Bio­phar­ma pod­cast se­ries. Start lis­ten­ing now.

We’ve re­cent­ly seen how man­u­fac­tur­ing con­tin­ues to be a key area of fo­cus in gene ther­a­py, and we’ve seen the FDA be­ing di­rec­tion­al­ly more strin­gent in that area. Is that chang­ing your phi­los­o­phy in terms of in­vest­ing?

I think any type of tech­nol­o­gy in­no­va­tion fol­lows a pre­dictable cy­cle. First­ly, there’s the promise of the tech­nol­o­gy in acad­e­mia. Then there’s the clin­i­cal break­through. Then you have in­dus­try swarm­ing in to in­dus­tri­al­ize the process. Then the kinks in the ar­mor be­come ap­par­ent.

With gene ther­a­py, we’re at a stage where the kinks are ap­par­ent. The promise is still there, and we’re very bull­ish on this space be­cause we have the toolk­it to fig­ure those is­sues out.

We al­ready see the next gen­er­a­tion of com­pa­nies that can de­liv­er new gene ther­a­py for­mats that will be safer, less tox­ic, and eas­i­er to man­u­fac­ture. That field is just in its in­fan­cy.

When you look at the lat­est in­no­va­tions that are com­ing next, what do you think the biggest biotech break­through for the next decade will be?

For me, it’s gene edit­ing as a tool to en­able a gen­er­a­tion of ther­a­pies that can cure dis­eases like sick­le cell dis­eases and he­mo­phil­ia. The modal­i­ty of gene edit­ing is ex­cit­ing, but from a clin­i­cal per­spec­tive, we’re in an ex­cit­ing new era of cu­ra­tive ther­a­pies. We have a suite of tech­nolo­gies that can ad­dress the root cause of ge­net­ic dis­eases. And we’re go­ing to see some out­stand­ing clin­i­cal re­sults through that in the com­ing decade.

It’s been a record-break­ing year for bio­phar­ma IPOs. What are your thoughts on com­pa­nies flip­ping pub­lic soon­er rather than lat­er? And how are you think­ing about ex­it op­por­tu­ni­ties?

With IPOs, I would say that our in­dus­try has ben­e­fit­ed from very open pub­lic mar­kets here in the U.S. that are very re­cep­tive to in­no­va­tion. Wher­ev­er you have a con­flu­ence of strong sci­ence, strong man­age­ment, and strong in­vestors, the win­dow will al­ways be open for IPOs.

In terms of ex­its, I’d say Vi­da is ac­tu­al­ly a very M&A dri­ven firm. Phar­ma M&A is the lifeblood of this in­dus­try. Phar­ma con­tin­ues to ac­cess in­no­va­tion through M&A. Their ear­ly-stage pipeline is com­ing from ven­ture-backed biotech com­pa­nies. New FDA-ap­proved med­i­cines, par­tic­u­lar­ly in ar­eas like cell ther­a­py and gene ther­a­py, are com­ing from ven­ture-backed biotech com­pa­nies.

Gain per­spec­tive to help you lead to­day and de­fine to­mor­row with Pathfind­ers, a new pod­cast from RBC for com­pa­nies and in­vestors in bio­phar­ma. Learn more.


Luca Issi

Senior Biotechnology Research Analyst