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VC Daily : Biotechs Seek New Skill Set From Scientists Entering Field

09/23/2021 | 08:17am EDT

Good day. Some biotechnology startups are seeking to hire scientists with skills extending well beyond biology.

With biotech capital readily available, startups' chief constraint is finding the right people. Increasingly, biotechs are using tools such as artificial intelligence and machine learning in a bid to make discoveries that would have been impossible before.

That requires a new breed of scientist who is familiar with computational technologies, said Fabrice Chouraqui, chief executive of Cellarity Inc., a biotech startup in Cambridge, Mass., that uses expertise in biology and machine learning to develop new, cell-targeted medications.

Dr. Chouraqui, also a CEO-partner of Flagship Pioneering, the life sciences investor that founded Cellarity and many other biotechs, said being part of Flagship's network has helped the company identify job candidates with the right mix of skills.

"The next-generation scientists will be scientists who will be able to operate across biology, technology and computation," Dr. Chouraqui said. "That puts a strain on some more-established people."

And now on to the news...

Top News

Biotech hiring. Employment and salaries in biotechnology are swelling, driven by rising investment in a sector that is gaining prominence as it develops drugs and vaccines for Covid-19 and other diseases.

Emerging drugmakers are hiring scientists at a faster clip, and compensation for these researchers is growing more quickly than in other technology sectors, according to Emsi Burning Glass, a job market-analytics firm.

Even as it expands, the biotech sector is struggling to provide opportunity for women and people of color in top leadership roles, industry data show.

Biotechs are battling for talent as they staff up to meet growth projections fueled by ready access to venture capital and the public markets. From 2015 to the second quarter of 2021, job growth for U.S. biotech scientists rose 50%, according to Emsi Burning Glass. "I don't think there's ever been a better time to be in biotechnology," said Geoffrey von Maltzahn, a general partner of Flagship Pioneering and chief executive of biotech startup Tessera Therapeutics Inc.

240,857

The number of scientists employed in U.S. biotechnology companies as of the second quarter of 2021, according to Emsi Burning Glass. Biotech scientific jobs have increased 50% since 2015.

Imperial Capital-Backed Eye-Care Company Weighs Sale

Keplr Vision, a private-equity-owned business that provides operational support to optometry practices across the U.S., has been exploring options including a sale, Laura Cooper reports for WSJ Pro, citing people familiar with the matter. Backed by Toronto-based private-equity firm Imperial Capital Group Ltd., the Bloomington, Ill., company has been working with investment bank Houlihan Lokey Inc., the people said.

Keplr is projected to have adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of about $100 million this year, according to the people. If reached, a deal could be valued around $1.8 billion, according to some of the people familiar with the matter.

The company partners with or purchases medically-focused optometry practices in the U.S. and provides them with operational support.

Other VC News

Toast, Freshworks Make Strong Market Debuts

Technology companies Toast Inc. and Freshworks Inc. had strong public-markets debuts on Wednesday, midway through a busy week for initial public offerings, The Wall Street Journal reports. Shares of Toast closed Wednesday up roughly 56%, valuing the company at $35.94 billion. Freshworks's shares closed up 32%, valuing it at $15.3 billion. Toast and Freshworks offer technology that helps companies meet their customers' needs. Boston-based Toast provides software for the restaurant industry, including payment systems, while California-based Freshworks has technology that assists companies with their customer service.

Industry News

Funds

Genomics-focused Illumina Ventures closed its second fund with $325 million in commitments. Limited partners in the new vehicle include Illumina Inc. and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. Since launching in 2016, the Foster City, Calif.-based firm has invested in 25 companies including Walking Fish Therapeutics, Kallyope, Alamar Biosciences, Encoded Therapeutics and NanoCellect.

People

Frazier Healthcare Partners added Maria Fardis as a venture partner on the life sciences team. She is also chief executive of 4PinesCo Inc., a Frazier-founded search company focused on developing therapeutic candidates. Ms. Fardis was previously president and CEO of Iovance Biotherapeutics.

San Francisco-based healthcare investment firm Revelation Partners named Doug Fisher as partner and Liz Staley as chief compliance officer. Prior to joining Revelation, Mr. Fisher spent 15 years at New Leaf Ventures and InterWest Partners focusing on biopharmaceutical, medical device and diagnostics investments. Ms. Staley was previously at Leerink Capital Partners and Silicon Valley Bank.

Switzerland-based drug development investor Pureos Bioventures appointed Dragan Grabulovski, Ian Metcalfe and Roberto Iacone as venture partners. Mr. Grabulovski was previously CSO and co-founder of Covagen AG. Mr. Metcalfe joined NovaGo Therapeutics as chief executive last year. Mr. Iacone is CEO of Alentis Therapeutics.

Rewind Therapeutics, a developer of therapies for multiple sclerosis and other myelin-related diseases, appointed Anja Harmeier as chief executive. She was previously a partner at Pureos Bioventures. Belgium-based Rewind Therapeutics is backed by investors including Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund and M Ventures.

Be Biopharma, a startup developing B cells as medicines, said Mitchell Chan joined the company as chief financial officer and head of corporate strategy. He was previously CFO at Viela Bio. Cambridge, Mass.-based Be Biopharma raised a $52 million Series A round last year from Atlas Ventures, RA Capital, Alta Partners, Longwood Fund and Takeda Ventures.

Exits

Unite USA Inc., which does business as Unite Us, a builder of coordinated care networks of health and social service providers, has acquired community referral platform NowPow. Terms of the new deal weren't disclosed. Unite USA is backed by investors including Iconiq Growth, Define Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, Emerson Collective and Optum Ventures. Last month, the New York-based company acquired health analytics company Carrot Health.

Novartis acquired Arctos Medical, a Swiss developer of optogenetic therapies for treating blindness, for an undisclosed amount. Arctos was backed by Novartis Venture Fund and ND Capital.

New Money

IVX Health, a Brentwood, Tenn.-based provider of outpatient infusion centers, completed a $100 million Series F round from Great Hill Partners. Previous investors in the company include McKesson Ventures, Health Velocity Capital and Nueterra Capital. Mark Taber, a managing director at Great Hill Partners, will join IVX's round.

Pager Inc., a New York-based virtual-care navigation and collaboration platform, raised $70 million in Series C equity and debt funding. Susquehanna Private Equity Investments led the round, which saw participation from an affiliate of Horizon Healthcare Services Inc. Silicon Valley Bank provided the debt portion. Health Catalyst Capital, Goodwater Capital, Lux Capital and New Enterprise Associates are also backers of Pager.

Nomad Health Inc., a New York-based digital marketplace for temporary healthcare jobs, snagged $63 million in new equity and debt financing. Adams Street Partners led the round, which included contributions from Icon Ventures, Polaris Partners, RRE Ventures, .406 Ventures, First Round Capital and Silicon Valley Bank. In addition to the investment, Nomad Health appointed Kim Howard as chief client officer and Jeff Simon as vice president of product.

Hexagon Bio Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based developer of small-molecule medicines mined from microbial genomes, fetched a $61 million investment led by Nextech Invest. New investors SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Casdin Capital also participated in the round, along with previous backers The Column Group, 8VC and Two Sigma Ventures.

858 Therapeutics, a San Diego-based startup developing small-molecule therapeutics for the treatment of cancer, emerged from stealth with $60 million in Series A funding. Versant Ventures led the round, which included participation from New Enterprise Associates, Cormorant Asset Management and Logos Capital.

Centivo, a Buffalo, N.Y.-based employer-sponsored health plan provider, picked up a $51 million investment. B Capital Group and Maverick Capital co-led the round, which included support from Bain Capital Ventures, Company Ventures, Define Ventures, F-Prime Capital, HarbourVest Partners, Ingleside Investors, Nassau Street Ventures and others.

Cytrellis Biosystems Inc., a Woburn, Mass.-based developer of dermatologic aesthetic devices for the removal of sagging skin due to aging, closed a $50 million Series C round led by D1 Capital Partners. Additional new investor Sands Capital also participated in the funding, along with existing backers ARCH Venture Partners and PFM Health Sciences.

Credence MedSystems Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif.-based developer of drug delivery systems, secured a $39.9 million investment from Novartis Pharma, Molex Ventures and others.

HumanCo, an Austin, Texas-based holding company dedicated to creating products focused on healthier living and sustainability, grabbed $35 million in bridge funding from investors including 8VC and JAZZ Venture Partners. Along with the investment, HumanCo acquired Against the Grain, a baker of grain-free and gluten-free products.

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