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Having helped start up two wildly successful San Diego biotechs, Royston said he found himself in demand as a sounding board for other entrepreneurs.
“The idea of helping young physician scientists was very intriguing,” he said.
He eventually formalized those activities, founding Forward Ventures, which functioned for a time as what he terms a “hobby fund” but it eventually evolved into an institutional fund that raised hundreds of millions. (The fund was named after Forward Street in La Jolla’s Bird Rock community, where Royston was living at the time.)
In the meantime, he started the nonprofit Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, which he headed until 2000, when he left to focus on Forward’s venture investments. (Years later, struggling to fund its work, the center filed for bankruptcy; Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, then the Burnham Institute for Medical Research, absorbed some of its researchers and assets.)
Now, more than 40 years after Royston started studying the origins of cervical cancer, he’s back to working on cancer viruses. He is CEO of Viracta, which is developing treatments for cancers linked to the Epstein Barr virus—the same virus he studied decades ago at NIH. Viracta’s experimental drug, nanatinostat, is being tested in a Phase 1b/2 trial in combination with an anti-viral called valganciclovir on patients with lymphoma. The company was the last one in which Forward Ventures invested; Royston became chief executive in 2017.
“To have Ivor still here in San Diego as a visible part of the scene, and to feel like and know that the role he played at that time has become a little bit of a textbook role in San Diego as to how our biotech industry looks and feels to the rest of the world, I think is just a really special thing,” Cafferty said.