Co-authored by Matt Gibbs @CipherBio_gibbs and Tom Hertzberg SVB Managing Director Life Sciences
So far this year, healthcare companies have been under the spotlight, as they were a source of hope regarding a vaccine against the COVID-19. Despite this, life science companies have been making the headlines even before the outbreak. The market valuations of many of those companies have soared, as those companies fill their pipelines with promising drugs and therapeutics, and introduce novel and agile operating models that help reduce costs and introduce drugs faster to patients.
In the previous article, we highlighted the top investors who provided capital to companies that are at the forefront of change in the life science sector. In this second part, we will talk about founders who came up with brilliant ideas that formed the foundation of those companies, and the life science entrepreneurs who managed the resources prudently and turned advanced and complex science into a reality. The scientific and strategic capabilities of those founders and CEOs have driven the growth of those companies and moved them to a status of prominence.
1. Moderna (Market cap: approximately $23B)
Moderna has been under the spotlight from the media due to its efforts on producing a vaccine against the coronavirus. The company was founded to commercialize the research of Derrick Rossi, Ph.D from Harvard Department of Stem Cell Research and Regenerative biology, and focuses on mRNA therapeutics. Moderna was co-founded by Dr Robert Langer, from MIT David H. Koch Institute, and Noubar Afeyan, Ph.D the CEO of Flagship Pioneering. Dr Afeyan is currently the chairman of Moderna. His track record includes having built over 100 innovative life science companies that reach high market valuations. Dr Langer, on the other hand, is a renowned professor at MIT. His academic work earned him the title of the most cited engineer in history. He has received over 200 awards, the latest of which are the Dreyfus prize in Chemical sciences in 2019, and the Maurice Marie-Janot award in 2020.
Stéphane Bancel was hired in 2011 as the CEO of moderna by the cofounder Noubar Afeyan. With his leadership, Moderna marked the biggest biotech IPO in history, and its market valuation exceeded 23 billion. Mr Bancel became a billionaire following the gains in share value, as he holds around 9% of the company’s equity. During his tenure, Moderna secured high-value deals throughout its lifetime. Bancel holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. Before Moderna, he was the BioMérieux. Under his tenure, Moderna signed significant deals, including the deal with AstraZeneca which saw the latter company pay an upfront payment of $240 million to Moderna to discover, develop and commercialise pioneering messenger RNA therapeutics™ for the treatment of serious cardiovascular, metabolic and renal diseases as well as cancer. The deal is considered among the largest in the biotech industry. The second deal was with Alexion Pharmaceuticals which signed a $100 million deal with Moderna to announce an exclusive strategic agreement for the discovery and development of mRNA therapeutics to treat rare diseases, although Alexion changed direction later on..
2. BioNTech (Market cap: approximately $11.5B)
BioNTech, is a Germany-based therapeutics company that was founded in 2008. It works on developing a unique understanding of each patient’s tumor and develops individualized cancer treatments, based on the belief that each tumor is unique and requires a matching therapy.
BioNTech was co-founded by Professor Christoph Hubert Huber and Professor Ugur Sahin in 2008. The company grew to become the largest privately-held biopharmaceutical company in Europe.
Professor Ugur Sahin has graduated from the University of Cologne. He has been serving as the CEO of BioNTech since its inception. Dr Sahin seeks to translate advanced scientific ideas into practical therapeutics that help patients.
BioNTech is not the first company he co-founds. Dr Sahin has participated in founding GANYMED Pharmaceuticals AG, and co-developed the SEREX (used in screening for novel tumor antigens) and MicroGATE™ technologies.
Sahin was behind the cooperation between Pfizer and BioNTech on producing an effective vaccine against the coronavirus. He wanted to apply the same technology he learned in immunology, where he tries to prompt cells to fight diseases. Sahin wanted to avert the disaster of the COVID-19 and thus mobilized his team towards a vaccine early on. He suggested a vaccine candidate to Pfizer and the latter confirmed its interest, and work began given that an mRNA vaccine is preferred to a traditional one. Pursuing an mRNA vaccine is something that Moderna and BioNTech are working on.
3. 10x Genomics (Market cap: approximately $8.8 billion)
10X Genomics was founded in 2012 by Serge Saxonov, along with Ben Hindson, and Kevin Ness. It offers single cell sequencing services, which help understand the gene expression profiling and immune profiling of the cells. The company’s stock has been growing in value as single cell analysis is being increasingly used in drug discovery and development. 10X genomics currently has a market capitalization in excess of $8B.
Kevin Ness is a serial entrepreneur in the genome reading space. He has co-founded QuantaLife in addition to 10X genomics. He is now the CEO of Inscripta.
Ben Hindson, the cofounder and chief scientific officer at 10X genomics, had co-founded QuantaLife, launched 10x Genomics in 2012 with co-founders, and attracted investors such as Softbank and Venrock.
CEO Serge Saxonov has been the CEO of the genetic sequencing company since it was founded. He had received a Ph.D. in biomedical informatics from Stanford University and an A.B. in applied mathematics from Harvard College.
He has an extensive career in the life science sector, as he was the founding architect and director of research at 23andMe, and worked as a vice president of applications at QuantaLife
4. BridgeBio Pharma (Market cap: approximately $3.5B)
BridgeBio Pharma is a California-based pharmaceutical company that implements a new approach to drug development, with the objective of delivering medicine for genetic diseases quickly and safely. Investors have been optimistic about its unique business models and drove its market cap to over $3B.
Neil Kumar, Ph.D. is a cofounder of Bridgebio Pharma. Kumar has been serving as the CEO of Bridgebio Pharma since 2015. The company was founded as the biotech giant Pfizer wanted to try a different and more agile model to address rare diseases. Funding for scientific research is usually directed to more prominent and common diseases to ensure the spending is efficient. However, the model of Bridgebio is quite unique in that it tries to cater to the small populations with rare diseases who do not receive similar funding. To succeed, Bridgebio is very lean and cost-effective.
Kumar holds a B.S. and M.S. degrees in chemical engineering from Stanford University and received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
He has experience in management consulting as he worked as an associate principal at McKinsey & Company for more than 4 years. He also has experience within venture capital firms, as he has served as a principal at Third Rock Ventures, a venture capital firm, from 2011 to 2014.
Under Kumar’s tenure, BridgeBio Pharma has been achieving impressive success. In 2019, the company achieved multiple clinical and preclinical milestones across its pipeline. At the time of reporting, the company had more than 20 drug development and discovery programs.
5. Karuna Therapeutics (Market cap: approximately $2.5B)
Karuna Therapeutics which is a biotech company that develops drugs for treating mental illness including schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, was founded by Andrew Miller, Ph.D. in 2009. Its successful clinical trials have driven its market valuation to over $2.5 billion.
Dr Miller served as CEO of Karuna from 2016-2018, and today he is the chief operating officer. Miller has experience from various life science companies as he held positions at PureTech Health plc, Venture Partner, Tal Medical and Entrega, Inc. He is currently a member of the board of directors of Entrega, Inc. He was named one of the top 40 innovators under 40 by MedTech Boston.
Dr. Miller received a B.S. in chemical engineering from the University of Illinois with highest honors, and completed his doctoral work in chemical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His distinguished work earned him the MIT Presidential fellow and National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate fellowship awards.
Currently, Steven Paul is the chairman of the board and the CEO of Karuna Therapeutics. He co-founded Sage Therapeutics and Voyager Therapeutics. He has 17 years of experience working on drug development for the central nervous system (CNS). Previously, he worked at Lilly Research Laboratories as vice president for science and technology and then president. He has improved our understanding of the genetic factors increasing susceptibility to Alzhemer’s disease, and discovered a new treatment, which is an antibody called Solanezumab. He served before that as Scientific Director of the National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland, and as a former director of the Appel Alzheimer Disease Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medical College. He is currently a Professor of Psychiatry at Washington University of St. Louis School of Medicine. There are more than 550 academic papers and book chapters published under his name.
Dr. Paul received his B.A. in Biology and Psychology from Tulane University, and his M.S. and M.D. degrees from the Tulane University School of Medicine.
6. Turning Point Therapeutics (Market cap: approximately $2.7B)
Turning Point Therapeutics a California-based biopharmaceutical, develops Kinase inhibitors, which help against cancer by ensuring precision targeting of cancer cells. The company was founded by Jingrong Jean Cui, Ph.D. in 2013. Today, its market valuation is well in excess of $2.5B.
Dr. Cui has over 20 years of experience in drug discovery and she is internationally renowned in the field of oncology drugs. She has worked at many pharmaceutical and biotech companies such as Glycomed and Sugen.
Dr. Cui earned her Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from The Ohio State University, and earned an M.S. and B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Science and Technology of China.
Dr. Cui worked for 10 years as an Associate Research Fellow at Pfizer. She is the lead inventor of Pfizer’s precision oncology medicine, crizotinib (Xalkori), and worked on several oncology projects at the company including its FDA-approved therapy Sutent, in addition to creating the clinical c-MET specific inhibitor PF-04217903 and designed the ALK second-generation clinical compound lorlatinib (PF-06463922).
She has received many prestigious awards including the American Chemical Society’s Hero of Chemistry (2013); Pfizer Worldwide R&D Achievement Awards (2006 and 2012); Pfizer Innovation Award (2011); and CABS K. Fong Award for Life Sciences (2013).
Turning Point Therapeutics has been led since 2018 by Dr. Athena Countorious, who joined the company as an executive vice president and chief medical officer in the beginning, then became a CEO.
She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and an M.D. from Tufts University School of Medicine. She has been trained at the University of California, Los Angeles, and additional and at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Program.
Dr Countorious has served at similar roles in the past, as she was a senior vice president and chief medical officer for Adverum Biotechnologies, and before that she served in the same roles at Halozyme Therapeutics. She also served as a chief medical officer at Ambit Biosciences. There, she was one of the key figures behind the IPO and the clinical development of quizartinib. The company was then acquired by Daiichi Sankyo in 2014 for a price that reached up to $410 million. She also worked at Pfizer as Global Clinical Leader. She had led various clinical development organizations within Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb for oncology therapeutics including Sutent, Mylotarg, Bosulif and Sprycel.
7. Cortexyme Inc (Market cap: approximately $1.4B)
Cortexyeme, which works on developing treatments for Alzheimzer’s and other degenerative diseases, was founded in 2012 by Casey Lynch and Stephen Dominey. The company’s stock price rose last year as it moved its molecule COR388 from phase 1 to phase 2 clinical testing. The company currently has a market valuation in excess of $1.3B.
Casey Lynch is currently the CEO and Chairman of Cortexyme. Before Cortexyme, she co-founded various companies and organizations in the biotechnology industry including Aspira Biosystems, Inc. and NeuroInsights, LLC. Ms. Lynch also co-founded the Neurotechnology Industry Organization and served as a board member there for nearly 13 years. She also worked on product development at Centaur Pharmaceuticals (which was acquired later by Renovis). Her graduate work on neurotrophic factor cell biology and neurodegenerative diseases, was carried out at UCSF and Stanford University.
Ms. Lynch holds a B.S. in Neuroscience from the University of California, Los Angeles, an M.S. in Neuroscience from the University of California, San Francisco and completed the Management Development for Entrepreneurs Program at University of California, Los Angeles.
8. SpringWorks Therapeutics (Market cap: approximately $1.9B)
SpringWorks Therapeutics, a Connecticut-based clinical stage biopharmaceutical company, uses precision medicine to develop and provide medicines for patients with rare diseases and cancer. The company currently has a market valuation of over $1B, driven by promising programs it is carrying on and the fact that it caters to underserved patients with rare diseases.
SpringWorks was founded in 2017 by Lara S. Sullivan, M.D., MBA, who also worked as the president of the company. Sullivan was previously a Vice President at Pfizer.
Saqib Islam, who is a founding member of the company’s executive team, assumed the responsibilities of the CEO in 2018, although he had other executive positions in the company before that. He is also currently a board member. Saqib had previously worked as a Chief Business officer at Moderna Therapeutics, where he played an important role in the company’s strategic growth. He had also served as executive vice president, chief strategy and portfolio officer at Alexion Pharmaceuticals. Saqib has extensive experience in managing healthcare organizations as well as investment banking, as he had worked before at Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse. His 25-year cross- functional experience has enabled him to play a important role in the growth of two companies on this list (Moderna and SpringWorks).
Saqib holds a bachelor’s degree from McGill University and a Doctor of Law – J.D. from Columbia Law School.
9. NGM Biopharmaceuticals (Market cap: approximately $1.5B)
NGM Biopharmaceuticals, a California-based biopharmaceutical company, was founded in 2008 by Jin-Long Chen, Ph.D. to develop therapeutics based on a deep understanding of key biological pathways underlying cardio-metabolic, liver, oncologic, and ophthalmic diseases. Recent promising data from its phase 2 clinical trial of its aldafermin drug for treating non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) helped to drive the stock price up.
Dr. Chen holds a B.S. in Nutrition and Food Science from Fu-Jen Catholic University, and a M.S. in biochemistry from National Taiwan University. He received his Ph.D. and completed his graduate training at the University of California, Berkeley. He is currently the Chief Scientific Officer at NGM biopharmaceuticals.
Prior to NGM Biopharmaceuticals, Dr. Chen held various positions at Amgen, and before that, he served as Vice President of Biology at Tularik. Dr. Chen’s distinguished work at the two companies had a positive rippling effect as it opened up new areas of research and helped advance multiple drug candidates into development, including RepathaTM (evolocumab).
The company is currently led by David Woodhouse, Ph.D. who became Chief Executive Officer and a member of NGM’s board of directors in 2018 and was the Chief Financial Officer prior to that. Dr Woodhouse had worked at Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC, as a Managing Director and co-head of biotechnology investment banking. Before that, he worked at Dynavax Technologies and also at Amgen , Inc. (where Dr Chen served before as well). Dr. Woodhouse holds a B.A . in pharmacology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.B.A. from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a Ph.D. in molecular pharmacology from Stanford University School of Medicine.
10. IGM Biosciences (Market cap: approximately $2B)
IGM Biosciences develops engineered IgM antibodies. It was founded in 1993 and it is based in California. The company’s stock jumped by over 50 percent on the first day after its IPO and today it has a market valuation of over $2 billion.
Professor Nelsen Teng was the scientific founder of IGM Biosciences. Nelsen has a lab under his name, the Nelsen Laboratory at Stanford University, and is a professor of obstetrics and Gynecology (Oncology) at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.
Nelson received a PhD in biophysics from the University of California, Berkeley, an MD from the University of Miami and is a graduate of the postgraduate program at the Stanford University Graduate Business School. He has fifteen patents with his name on them and has authored over 100 publications.
Professor Teng founded or cofounded many companies alongside IGM biosciences, including Adeza Biomedical (ADZA) which specialises in women’s healthcare, and Univax Biologics.
IGM biosciences is currently being led by its Chief Executive Officer Fred M. Schwarzer. Mr. Schwarzer received a B.A. in Pre-Legal Studies from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.
Mr. Schwarzer has worked before as a managing partner at VC firm Charter Life Sciences. Moreover, he worked as the chair of Inviragen, which was acquired later by Takeda, and served as chief executive officer and then chair of the board of directors of Heska Corporation.
By looking at top companies that have delivered exceptional performance since the beginning of 2019, it becomes evident that it was the passion of key people that made their successes possible. From scientific founders, to drug developers, to strategic thinkers, the people behind those companies were the critical success factor that tipped the scales. Remarkably, some names are seen in more than company (such as Saqib Islam who cofounded SpringWorks Therapeutics, and had a significant role in the growth of Moderna). This stands to prove that, currently, the big force that is moving the life science sector is the great minds of the people in it. Those great minds, coupled with the needed resources, are making a big difference in the sector and changing it to the better.
Join us in our effort to capture the entire life science ecosystem in our database.
We strongly believe that the availability of a high-quality database about the life sciences ecosystem increases sector efficiency and benefits every company raising capital. Thus, if you are an investor or a startup in any of the relevant industries, we would like to extend an invitation to you to join the platform and or subscribe to the CipherBio insight newsletter.
Fill out your digital profile, or update it with your company’s latest news, so that you can be a part of the data set that represents the life science ecosystem.