One reality of the biotech industry that’s often overlooked is that 90% of biotech companies are not profitable. Biotech innovators often spend years in development before they are able to commercialize their products. These are mostly small companies that rely heavily upon private investment to fuel their pursuit of new cures and treatments.
That’s what the BIO Investor Forum is all about — partnering innovators together with investors to bring new therapies from research labs to patients. And that’s why individuals like Kristina Burow are so important to the biotech ecosystem.
Burow serves as managing director at ARCH Venture Partners, where she makes decisions that can have a significant impact on the well-being of patients. During a Fireside Chat at the Forum, Burow described her experience as an investor in biotech innovation. The Chat was moderated by Effie Toshav, a partner at Fenwick & West and legal counsel to life sciences companies.
A chemist by training, Burow left the research world and described her entry into venture capital like “jumping off a cliff and not really knowing what’s down there, and it was exhilarating.” Her time in the lab — and time she spent in the water as a competitive swimmer — prepared her for the important work she has undertaken at ARCH.
The conversation touched on a variety of topics, including Burow’s investment philosophy, what she looks for in biotech leaders, and the challenges she sees in the future. Burow’s views on these and other issues facing patients and the biotech community are reflected in some excerpts from the discussion:
Her experience as a chemist
“Throughout all these experiences I got to work with amazing individuals who were all chemists and innovators. The one thing I really appreciated about all those experiences was the folks were hell bent on finding therapies to help people. … They wanted to develop a drug to help people. That’s been ingrained in me.”
Her investment philosophy
“Be willing to take risks. Fight for what’s right. … Invest in what’s cool. Invest in science that matters. Invest in people that can get it done. Invest in therapies that will make an impact.”
Thinking outside the box
“When we started Unity [Biotechnology], it was really about looking at senescence biology, and determining that if you could eliminate senescent cells from the human body or the mouse body, then you could actually reduce or eliminate many of those diseases of aging and that would be a good thing. … One of the tenets behind Unity is to extend health span as opposed to extend life span.”
The changing landscape of biotech investment
“There is a number of great new investors who have entered the biotech arena. It will be interesting. Our experience is they often ask the most difficult questions. … At its best, those investors bring a completely fresh viewpoint and a mentality that if it doesn’t work then they should fix it. My hope — because I am an optimist — is that they take that and they bring the capital with them that’s necessary to fix the system, improve the system and make it better.”
Public policy concerns
“The innovative treatments require innovation which requires money. If you start to try and address health care costs by limiting spending on the pharmaceutical budget, it seems like you’ve missed the point. … I hope we as a community can make it clear the value we bring with these innovative therapies, that saving somebody’s life is something that should be valued and recognized.”
On moving towards price controls
“If this becomes a system that looks like other systems in the world where there are significant ceilings placed on therapeutic reimbursement, absolutely, there will be a lot of money that leaves this sector. A lot of people will go invest in next the Twitter. They will invest in apps and dating sites and gaming sites and real estate … If it goes to its natural conclusion, the innovation will peter off and die. The therapies won’t be there and anyone who has a loved one or is themselves suffering from a disease will be left to the whims of what pharma can dig up.”
What makes a great biotech innovator
“Singular vision. They know exactly where a field is going or where their particular scientific project is going and they are able to work towards that vision and bring others with them. The really best ones are collaborative in getting people on board. The ones that are not collaborative and have super sharp elbows they sort of tap out at a certain point … Of course, brilliance and hard work and all those things, but it’s really that mission, that laser focus.”