Monday, February 22, 2016

2 million bucks is all it takes

Another way to scrape together 2 million dollars
Credit: WVLT
In this week's C&EN, a really fun article by Lisa Jarvis about Forge Therapeutics' hunt for investors
at 2016's JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. The company's founder is Seth Cohen of UCSD, with Zak Zimmerman as CEO and David Puerta as head of chemistry. Here's a fun little detail about their current funding situation:
Launched in early 2015, the firm secured “seed” funding—a small influx of cash from private individuals—to set up labs and start generating data. Zimmerman and Puerta are hoping in 2016 to attract a first round of funding from venture capitalists or secure a partnership with a big pharma company—maybe even both... 
The two chemists knew the science, but they needed help on the business side. One day in December 2014, Puerta took his kids out to play soccer and ran into another family. “Zak was out there with his kids, and it turns out we had worked across the street from each other in Cambridge,” Puerta recalls. 
It was a fortuitous meeting. Zimmerman had led business development at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and was lured to San Diego when the firm spun off the microRNA business Regulus Therapeutics. In other words, he had years’ worth of industry, venture, and banking contacts that could be exceedingly helpful to a young business. 
It turned out that Zimmerman, Puerta, and Cohen lived within a mile of each other. And they discovered that in addition to the usual commonalities—kids, soccer, science—they had an easy rapport. Conversations about a potential company quickly turned into the launch of an actual one. Zimmerman put his network to work to come up with a list of metalloprotein targets that were of interest to big pharma companies. If Forge’s novel chemistry yielded inhibitors, partners might be interested. 
Meanwhile, the team scraped together about $2 million from family, high-net-worth individuals, and the San Diego-based private investor network, Tech Coast Angels. Last spring, the three hired several researchers and set up shop in JLABS, a sought-after Johnson & Johnson incubator in San Diego where tenants share lab and office equipment. A pilot agreement with J&J soon followed.
The rest of the article is just as interesting - I think I had as much fun reading it as Lisa had in writing it.

(Isn't vorinostat a good example of a hydroxamic acid drug?)

The small company experience seems to be just as much about about "let's ask people for some money" in addition to "let's come up with some new science ideas." I should grow up about that, and acknowledge that getting money from people is a skill, and one that I should get better at.


  1. Raising money is for certain a skill I never appreciated until I saw it in action. The difference between (most, yes I'm generalizing) scientists and sales guys (it's almost always men) is astounding to me. Having seen good sales guys in action, it is a skill I never denigrate or have any illusions about being able to do well.

    1. I actually agree with your sentiments, seeing as how I eat thanks to the help of sales folks. My philosophy has been: the sales folks eat well, I eat well. (That's mostly true; that they are eating steak while I am eating burgers is neither here nor there.)

      I do get irritated at sales folks who tend to yadda-yadda the details of the science being discussed, or promise things that cannot be delivered.

  2. Vorinostat is relatively nonselective in its ability to inhibit the individual members of the HDAC family. There's some evidence that subtype-selective inhibitors (many of which have been developed) might be better for treating disease, but those details still have to be figured out in the clinic...

    I got to meet Seth and David a few years ago. They were both very smart, driven, sociable, and down-to-earth. I am not surprised to hear that they've been successful both in doing science and in fundraising. Good luck to them.