Biomedical Entrepreneurship

Capital, competition, and cutting distractions

General Biotechnologies won 1st place in the 27-team Challenge Round at RPBC 2017.

It’s been a wild couple months since I decided to start this series on biotech and venture capital, which is why I’m just now writing a second entry.

Here’s what’s new:

General Biotechnologies scored non-dilutive funding to start animal trials of our first small molecule candidate.

In December we filed IP for Nivien Therapeutics, which has a novel platform to fight treatment-resistant cancers. We’ve since demonstrated that our first candidate, a small molecule kinase inhibitor called NVN-1, reduces the dose of chemo needed to stop pancreatic cancer cell growth by 11-fold.

Last week, we executed our option to license a key patent from Harvard Medical School, so we’ll spend next week negotiating a small equity stake to avoid a scary six-figure upfront licensing fee. Just three months since we incorporated, this will be the first time we give up part of the company. It’s a tough decision, but at the same time we’re excited to acquire the freedom-to-operate with cutting-edge science.

Yesterday, we took 1st place in the 27-team Challenge Round at the 2017 Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston.

After presenting Nivien to three rounds of judges at Rice University, we won the James Nicolaou Memorial Prize. This is sadly fitting: Mr. Nicolaou, a longtime RBPC judge, died in 2012 from treatment-resistant liver cancer.

I also went to RBPC for Dorm Room Fund, which had 6 portfolio companies in the finals.

Especially big shoutouts to Forest Devices, whose stroke detection device won $650K; Droice Labs, which is using ML to improve treatment decisions; and Rendever, which won a NASA grant for fighting depression with VR.

I’ve been an investment partner at DRF for two months now and it’s been incredible to learn about the exciting projects that other students (especially my fellow partners) are working on. If you want to become an entrepreneur or learn the basics of venture capital, I encourage you to apply to be a partner this fall. Just the past few weeks, we’ve seen or funded startups in spaces ranging from travel to biomedical devices — and even literal space. 🚀

The victim of this deep-dive into biotech, entrepreneurship and VC has been my thesis research.

Running between the i-Lab at HBS and my lab at HMS became unrealistic: I was missing meetings at one end and experiments at the other.

Two weeks ago, after my team won enough money to work on General Biotechnologies over the summer, I told my friend and mentor David Sinclair that I would no longer pursue my thesis on a biological anti-aging intervention in his lab.

Professor Sinclair, a serial entrepreneur who sold one of his biotech companies for $720M, supported this decision, but it was a difficult lesson in never making a long-term commitment unless you’re positive you’ll keep it.

Finally, congratulations to my girlfriend Emilia Gonzalez for winning a major award from the American Heart Association for her research on cardiomyocyte regeneration at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Proud of ya!


Principal at RA Capital, on the boards of 7 biotech companies. Founder/CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. Australian-American. 50 countries and counting.

Principal at RA Capital, on the boards of 7 biotech companies. Founder/CEO of Nivien Therapeutics. Australian-American. 50 countries and counting.