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Gilead’s Lung Drug Ace, Bruce Montgomery, Hits Free Agent Market, Scopes Startup Ideas

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around over the phone yesterday. He says he’s circled Halloween on the calendar as his target date to figure out what to do next. It might be in the field of respiratory drugs, which he knows best, but it could be something related like antibiotics, infectious diseases, or something else.

One thing he knows already—the world of biotech venture capital has changed dramatically since he started Corus in 2001. That company raised more than $145 million in venture capital, for one really visible asset (Cayston), and a bunch of people with talent and experience to do more.

“The VC environment has changed dramatically, the same old business models don’t seem to work, Montgomery says. “Corus wouldn’t work today, healthcare reform has changed the rules. I’ll have to ask if there is a business model. I’m not sure there is one.”

I asked Montgomery what he considered his ideal working environment, given he’s done both the startup life and the big company. He noted that the benefit of being at Gilead is that it has virtually unlimited resources to throw at a scientific or medical problem, but the downside is bureaucracy. A small company’s lack of bureaucracy is wonderful, but if you burn through $20 million on a hard problem and fail, you’re toast. He doesn’t miss the stress Corus suffered when a giant company (Chiron, now Novartis) almost bled his startup company to death through a trade secrets lawsuit before Gilead saved the day with a strategic investment. (The suit was ultimately settled after Novartis bought Chiron).

“At Gilead, $20 million is a rounding error,” Montgomery says. “It spoils you and softens your hard-nosed thinking, because you can take big bets and not really worry about them.”

Although I pressed for detail, Montgomery says he doesn’t have any firm idea he’s locked into yet, or what kind of company structure he might need to mobilize. He has a non-compete agreement, so he can’t poach any of his talented colleagues who currently work at Gilead today.

One thing Montgomery isn’t doing is taking some time off to recharge his batteries. He already took a couple weeks of vacation earlier this summer, which he says is a lot for him. He’s currently working about 80 hours a week, and anticipates dialing back his Gilead work to about 20 hours a week as an advisor. But really, there’s a good possibility he could take that commitment down to zero hours a week at some point in the next couple of months, depending on what he decides to do.

“It took me a couple months to figure out what to do last time,” when he was between jobs, Montgomery says. “I’m going to read a lot, figure out what’s going on. I don’t have any brilliant ideas at the moment.”

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