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Jun 24, 2008

The Valley of Death

  • As is evident by the increase in coverage, there is an increasingly wide gap between academic research and starting a company in the press link.

    The reasons for that are manyfold and include a decreasing number of investors willing to back very early-stage research, i.e. pre-protoype stage or even pre-proof of concept ventures. These investors are namely venture capitalists (and to a much lesser degree angel investors) who seek to minimize their risk to negative outcomes in feasibility studies or even clinical trials.

    Consequently, the next generation biotech start-up - Biotech 2.0 if you will - has to have done a much more time and resource consuming development process to reach the seed-worthy level of proof-of-concept or phase 0. Preferred, however may now be even later stages such as a small phase 1, all with the goal of minimizing the risk of failure.

    So far so good for investors in VC pools - but the money to develop the initial concept into a business has to come from somewhere. The NIH in it's current budget squeeze is not likely to be able to provide the millions of dollars needed across the research spectrum to bridge the gap.

    Who then is willing, able and has a larger than usual amount of capital at hand: the pharma industry and big biotech. Yes they do usually acquire successful start-ups or small- to medium size biotechs (Sirtris-GSK) but I believe it is time to change the investment strategy and increase the development collaborations - especially with academic institutions, which would massively benefit from the process experience of pharma. Incidentally, that would also narrow the gap between academic results standards and industrial results standards.

    It's a win-win situation and one that deserves consideration not only from the industry side, but also from the historically hesitant academic side.

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