Sofinnova Ventures’ David Kabakoff, Hybritech Veteran, Sees Promise in San Diego Biotech

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20 more employees are based in Shanghai, where chemistry can be done more cheaply, he says. Since a couple of the founding chemists, Yi Liu and Pingda Ren, are of Chinese descent, they can communicate very efficiently with the staff back in China, Kabakoff says.

Since there are no approved drugs hitting the PI3 kinase pathway, this is a risky area, and being careful with its pennies is important, Kabakoff says. “It’s risky and expensive,” he says. “Being first-in-class, trying to plow that ground is tough. We like to ask, ‘what can you learn from failures before you?’ Intellikine might still be first in class, but it doesn’t have to be. There can sometimes be an advantage in being a fast follower.”

While Calistoga is in clinical trials, and expects results in mid-2009, Intellikine still expects to be in animal tests, Kabakoff says. Intellikine should enter human tests in 2010, he says.

Before leaving the office, I had to learn a little more about Sofinnova and its philosophy. The firm invests entirely in drug development, not a mix of medical devices, supplies, or other services, Kabakoff says. “We invest in what we know,” he says. “We have people who have done it for years, and we are a clinical stage drug investor.”

Intellikine is a little earlier in development than Sofinnova usually likes, he says. The current $375 million fund is expected to invest in 12 to 15 life sciences companies, with about two-thirds going to that sector, and the rest going toward information technology. Sofinnova likes to take the lead or co-lead in its investments, he says.

Kabakoff’s role is to find new investments and scrutinize contenders. Even though he’s called an executive-in-residence, he’s not planning to come in and take over operations. “I’ve done that. It’s not my goal in life at this point,” he says. I asked later if he’s having fun with the juggling act of handling a half-dozen investments, and he didn’t blink. “I wouldn’t do this if I wasn’t having fun. Having a half-dozen companies to work with is very stimulating. I’m really working as hard as I ever did.”

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