One month after his resignation from Epizyme was announced, Jason Rhodes says he’s becoming a partner at Atlas Venture.
At Cambridge, MA-based Epizyme, Rhodes was chief financial officer and president as he helped the firm turn its exploration of epigenetics, a cutting-edge area of biomedical science, into a clinical pipeline and a spot on the NASDAQ. Epizyme made its public debut in 2013 despite having only the bare minimum of clinical experience, and the company has boasted a billion-dollar market capitalization for nearly the entire time.
But for his next act, Rhodes, 45, says he had to look elsewhere: “From a career perspective, it was time to be a CEO or go back into venture.”
He’ll only have to move his office a mile or so. Joining Cambridge-based Atlas as a partner will be Rhodes’s fifth job in fifteen years. Before Epizyme, he was the vice president of business development at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals as it tried to move the new field of RNA interference from fascinating (and prize-winning) biological discovery to breakthrough therapeutic technology. Before that, he helped found Fidelity Biosciences—the biotech venture arm of Fidelity Investments—and was vice president at MPM Capital.
His tenures at Alnylam and Epizyme were both marked by significant partnerships with big drug makers, as the small, venture-backed firms looked for non-dilutive funding without giving up too many rights to their promising technology. Epizyme’s big “get” was a tie-up with Celgene that brought in $90 million initially without surrendering U.S. rights to any of its drugs. Alnylam was more of a rollercoaster, as some of the massive deals Rhodes helped ink fell apart as Big Pharma enthusiasm about RNA interference turned to doubt.
Atlas is one of a handful of venture firms that makes extensive bets on early, risky biomedical science—on exactly the kind of firms that look to emulate Epizyme and Alnylam. Asked if he’s concerned there aren’t enough like-minded VCs to build syndicates that can support young companies through many years of development, Rhodes says he feels there’s now a “stable set” of about two dozen “innovative life science investors.”
“The scarce resource is management—talented people with both scientific and entrepreneurial and business-building experience,” he says. Atlas has a seed-funding program in which biopharma veterans oversee work on several projects at once as entrepreneurs-in-residence, then move into operational roles as the projects turn into funded companies. Rhodes said despite his desire to be a CEO, that’s not how he sees getting there.
“I’ll be starting companies and be acting CEO for some time, but I’ll always stay in the Atlas fold,” Rhodes says.
He becomes the firm’s fifth life science partner, joining Peter Barrett, Bruce Booth, Jean-Francois Formela, and David Grayzel. Atlas closed its ninth fund in 2013 with $265 million in commitments from investors that include big drug firms Novartis and Amgen. The funds are split between its life science and tech investment teams.