LaunchBio – Evening With An Entrepreneur

The Office of Innovation of the University of California, San Diego, in collaboration with Launch Bio, organized an evening with entrepreneurs and startup showcase on January 15, 2019 at Genesis in Campus Point. The event was sponsored by the City of San Diego, Biolabs, Procopio, CSC Leasing Company, and Hughes Marino, and started with a networking reception and the exhibit of local startup companies. Representatives of UCSD and Launch Bio introduced the panelists.

Teams of committed people, not just brilliant individuals, is what makes successful companies. Wendy Johnson, Mike Grey, Niall O’Donnell, Ciara Kennedy, and Susan Dube have been working together for years going from idea, to execution, to exit, and talked about their strategy for success.

They started Lumena Pharmaceuticals and, after it was sold to Shire in 2014, started Reno Pharmaceuticals. Then, they founded Amplyx with assets bought back from Shire. Approximately 30% of drugs fail for lack of efficacy, another 30% for safety reasons, and another 30% for commercial reasons. For example, a company may decide to abandon a certain therapeutic area, or a certain compound could be repurposed for an indication that can be more suitable, in terms of clinical development, for a small company rather than a big one. The panelists founded clinical stage companies whose business model is the acquisition of compounds from big pharma companies that decide not to pursue that asset after having generated a significant amount of preclinical data.

When starting a company, a nice building and infrastructure are not very important. But one needs a technology, money, and people. As a scientist, the technology comes easily. Access to capital is obviously important, but investments can be obtained relatively easily with good technology and a strong executive team. The people is what differentiates a company from another. Hiring is an imprecise process and a resume and interview do not always allow you evaluate the “fit”. The 5 panelists knew each other and some of them had worked together in the past when they started Lumena in 2010. They all had the desire to do important things, move things fast without the bureaucracy of big pharma’s committees, and found it very rewarding to improve the quality of life of children living with the incessant itching of cholestatic liver diseases.

It takes approximately 100 days to evaluate a technology and decide whether to move ahead. If you decide to do so, be perseverant, be prepared to have set backs, and have some savings, as initially you may need to work for free.

A small number of people who work well together can accomplish a lot. But to work well together, they need to set aside their egos and understand that everybody rises and falls together.

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