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Six Takeaways From “New York’s Life Science Disruptors”

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a genetic mutation present in all of those patients. “The net result of that is it’s a druggable target, there’s a small biotech that’s got a drug that looks really useful for this,” Darnell said. “We’ll see what happens, but it’s a beautiful 12-month example of knowing zero to having a drug.”

3. Lack of early-stage venture dollars leads to creativity and quality, if not quantity, of startups.

Misti Ushio noted that the lack of early-stage venture money in New York is “obvious and is a problem,” but that local institutions have gotten creative to make up the gap—they’re pooling money for either translational grants or equity in startups. That means these institutions—be it Rockefeller, Columbia University, or others—are serving as de facto VCs, vetting research and mentoring folks on how to make their work more commercially viable.

Ushio thinks this will have a trickle-down effect that should create more quality startups, so when the VCs do come calling, these technologies will be further along. “I almost feel like because of the lack of capital, the technology that is moving through these individual, siloed programs within the institutions will create a really great cohort of early-stage companies,” she said.

4. Expect Accelerator’s New York startups to have a collaborative flavor.

Since Accelerator has come to New York, Thong Le said it’s been “inundated” with potential investment opportunities and has been winnowing them down. Accelerator expects to form at least two New York startups this year, and while it’s keeping those choices close to the vest for now, Le gave some insight into Accelerator’s strategy.

In some cases, Le said, Accelerator has spotted technology that on its own might not support a company, but could when packaged with work from another institution in “New York or elsewhere.” “We want to bring technologies together, put them together in a basket, and then create something that is then financeable and growable within the scope of New York City,” Le said. “The ability to put that together in this ecosystem is a very unique opportunity that we fully expect to exploit.”

5. “You’re no Roy Vagelos.”

George Yancopoulos and Len Schleifer had one thing in common—aside from playing on the same softball team growing up. They both idolized Roy Vagelos, who headed Merck in its glory days in the mid-80s and 90s and helped it win FDA approval of the first cholesterol-lowering statin drug, lovastatin, in 1987.

Some five years into Regeneron’s history, Yancopoulos—its scientific founder—was in Schleifer’s office with his feet up on the CEO’s desk. Things were bad at Regeneron; the stock was worth just over $1. Yancopoulos was upbeat; Schleifer was worried. “You know George, I’m beginning to worry that maybe you’re no Roy Vagelos,” he said.

But there was a solution: Vagelos was stepping down from Merck. “Maybe we should call the real Roy Vagelos and see if he’ll join us?” Well, he did. Vagelos was named chairman of Regeneron in 1995 and still holds that position. Regeneron navigated through the early dark days to become perhaps New York’s most prolific biotech. And as a side note, you’d have done well to buy some Regeneron stock back then. Shares are now worth around $443 apiece.

6. Unique to Regeneron? Its original employees stayed the course.

Biopharma is a long game. It usually takes a decade or more, and billions of dollars, to get a drug from inception to the finish line. As a result, the folks that found biotech companies and the executives that first lead them typically aren’t around when that biotech’s drug hits the market. Biotech CEOs are often switched out, for instance, when a company moves from discovery to clinical development, or intends to take itself public.

That hasn’t been the case with Regeneron. “You hear a lot about starting with the science, starting with discoveries, developing technologies, and bringing new medicines to people that make a difference. How many people do you think in the entire industry have actually done that at a company?” Yancopoulos asked the crowd, before answering, “About 20.”

“How many people like that do you think exist at Regeneron?” he followed. “About 20. And those 20 people are now the most senior leading people at the company.”

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