Ryan talks about Accelerating Biotech at Pioneers 2016 in Vienna, Austria
Ryan talks about why he believes biotech food is safer and more efficient. An interview of CCTV America
Will Alphabet Be Able to Monetize Google's Moonshots?
Indie Bio's Ryan Bethencourt, Om Malik, a partner at True Ventures, and Bloomberg Businessweek's Brad Stone discuss the prospects for Google's moonshots in the wake of the company's plan to adopt a new holding structure under the name Alphabet. They speak with Bloomberg's Emily Chang on "Bloomberg West." (Source: Bloomberg)
Biotech Accelerator IndieBio Bumps Funding To $250K Per Startup To Give Founders More Runway
San Francisco-based biotech accelerator IndieBio has pledged to raise the funding per startup accepted into its program from $50,000 to $250,000 going forward. Each startup will now get $200,000 in cash plus $50,000 worth of co-op lab space to work with in order to give each startup a longer runway.
That’s not just a significant raise from IndieBio, but one that topples Y Combinator’s $120,000 offering as well. YC started investing in the biotech space last year and YC president Sam Altman told TechCrunch in a previous story that he plans to add more startups in this space in the future.
The funding will help give biotech startups in the accelerator at least a year of runway, and avoid what is known as the “biotech valley of death,” or the early-stage funding gap that halts progress for many young life sciences startups, thus causing them to die, according to IndieBio program director Ryan Bethencourt .
“We are seeing that a well-stocked physical lab for startups isn’t enough to take them from prototype to commercial viability. It takes more money and time, particularly in the Bay Area, to create a product,” Bethencourt said.
Like the accelerator, this new funding level is experimental. IndieBio initially offered $35,000, then $50,000 plus lab space in this last batch. IndieBio founder Arvind Gupta said he may also tweak this new offering in the future. “If it is too much money we will pare it back. We are learning and will evolve the model to find the optimal balance of funding and risk tolerance for radical ideas” Gupta said.
IndieBio’s capital, facilities and deep mentoring by a network of biotech specific experts have the potential to spawn the Google, Facebook and Instagram’s of biology. — Ryan Bethencourt, IndieBio
Gupta is a partner at the Ireland-based VC firm SOS Ventures, which officially launched IndieBio in October 2014 to get into the fast-growing and newly lucrative biotech space.
Corporate venture capitalists poured in more than $2 billion into biotech funding in just the last three months of 2014, according to a MoneyTree reportfrom PriceWaterhouseCoopers. But Google Ventures and Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs had already been investing in the space for the last few years, then YC came on board last year. Life sciences startups were heating up and SOS wanted in.
IndieBio has since brought on 30 companies to work on some pretty wild projects, like making rhino horns without the rhino attached, creating bone marrow in test tubes and creating clothing from yeast. The accelerator added mentors such as 23andMe co-founderLinda Avey and Harvard genetics professor (and one of the initiators of the Human Genome Project) George Church to help guide these young companies.
IndieBio has also set up a new partnership with cloud-based biolab startup Transcriptic, one of the original biotech startups out of YC, to help each of the companies rapidly process experiments. Transcriptic was already offering free services to YC alumni but will now offer up to $60,000 worth of services to IndieBio participants as well.
The new $250,000 in funding, lab space, key mentorships, and the Transcriptic partnership adds up to what IndieBio hopes will be the most enticing offer to talented founders in the biotech space.
“By raising the funding to $250,000, we believe we will attract even more high-caliber scientists with decades of research experience to take the plunge into entrepreneurship,” Gupta said.
The main issue IndieBio now faces is that it does not have the same proven track record as YC. While YC offers less than half the amount of funding (and zero lab or office space), it has had some of the most valuable Silicon Valley startups walk through its doors and attracts top investors.
Bethencourt waves off that worry. He believes the new funding amount and offerings will make IndieBio the top choice for promising biotech startups and will give them the runway needed to bridge that early-stage hurdle and become profitable before going to raise a Series A.
“IndieBio’s capital, facilities and deep mentoring by a network of biotech specific experts have the potential to spawn the Google, Facebook and Instagrams of biology,” he said.
What Innovative Investors Need to Know About Digital Biology - Presented by: The Aol. On Network
Is investing in synthetic biology worth the risk? 'Absolutely!' says Ryan Bethencourt of Berkeley Biolabs and Indie.Bio, an SOS Ventures backed biotech accelerator.
Biohackers Aim To Make Homebrew Insulin, But Don't Try It Yet
MIRIAM E. TUCKER | NPR.ORG
Might people with diabetes someday be able to brew their own insulin for free at home, just as with beer? The answer may be yes, but whether it's a good idea is another question.
The home-brewed insulin concept is among the latest to emerge from the bio-hacking movement, in which people meet to tinker with biology in inexpensive do-it-yourself laboratories that have popped up in California, New York and a few other places in the United States and Europe.
The field is small so far — around six or seven real biohacker labs, with between five and 40 active members — but interest is growing.
"People wanted to do science outside of classical institutions like universities or big corporations, so we embraced it," says Ryan Bethencourt, an entrepreneur who co-founded San Francisco-based Indie.Bio, which provides seed funding for biotechnology startups. Bethancourt has also worked with several pharmaceutical companies in product development.
Beyond the creation of a glow-in-the-dark plant, few concrete products have thus far emerged from the biohacking movement. Bethencourt wants to change that.
The insulin idea came from speaking with a friend and fellow biohacker who has Type 1 diabetes and requires costly insulin to stay alive. Even with insurance coverage, a three-month supply can total hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Bethencourt says: "Anthony and I have discussed this for two years. Why is insulin so expensive?"
Indeed, while some of the older insulins are off patent or soon will be, in the United States there are currently no insulin biosimilars — the rough equivalent of "generic" for biological medicines — although one has been approved in Europe. Even with biosimilars, the cost isn't as comparatively low as it is for generic synthetic drugs versus brand names.
About 6 million people in the U.S. use insulin, including all of the 1 to 2 million with Type 1 diabetes and about 15 percent of those with Type 2 diabetes. In poor countries, children still die for lack of it.
"Insulin is the first medicine we're trying this with. It is probably the largest need of any biologic drug I know of," says Bethencourt.
In fact, biohacking it isn't that hard to do: Lab equipment costs have come down considerably in recent years, and the DNA sequences for recombinant human insulin and for the newer analogs are public information.
Bethencourt wants to use a cloud-based automated laboratory platform that would take DNA, insert it into bacteria and make insulin at a far lower cost than the commercial product.
He's planning to crowdfund about $2,000 for the equipment to get it going.
"We'll start by saying it's research only, and make it available to all the biohackers and any researchers who want open-source insulin," Bethencourt says. "Then we have to figure out how to increase the yield and how to purify it. Then people can start using it. They can brew it, like beer."
His ultimate goal is free insulin for everyone who needs it, in the U.S. and globally.
But Dr. Marcus Hompesch, president, CEO and a founder of the Profil Institute for Clinical Research, Inc. in San Diego, says the home-brewing idea is irresponsible and foolhardy. "Manufacturing insulin or any peptide or any biologic for that matter is a very complex affair. If you don't understand what it all entails, you could end up manufacturing something that is downright dangerous for patients."
Making recombinant human insulin is a multistep process, Hompesch explains, and "at any step of the way, things can go wrong .... It's highly regulated." Among the risks, he said, are that a protein sample that is either contaminated or isn't treated properly could trigger an immune response in the recipient that could then cross-react with and neutralize other insulins the patient might be receiving or, in the case of Type 2 diabetes patients, their remaining naturally-produced insulin.
Patients might have to make significant dose changes, which could adversely affect their diabetes control. Hompesch says. More significant immune reactions could happen as well.
Hompesch, who has published extensively on biosimilar insulins, says the discussion of biohacking insulin worries him because it is actually possible. "Practically, it can be done," he says. "The technological hurdle isn't one that couldn't be overcome." Getting it done right is not trivial, he adds. "As a clinician and researcher I wouldn't want to see a large biohacking experiment in patients even started."
But Bethencourt believes the biohacking community, which includes molecular biologists, is capable of addressing the challenges involved with making the protein consistently and safely. "At first, it will not be safe. That's why we have to make it available so other people can develop ways of ensuring that it's safe," he says. "We would get it at least to the same level of safety as current therapeutics. We'd want to use the same technology. We're just trying to make it cheaper."
For now, "The aim for me is more of a statement and concept piece." Bethencourt says. "I want to start a revolution in the way therapeutics are made, starting with insulin."
Miriam E. Tucker is a freelance journalist specializing in medicine and health. You can follow her on Twitter @MiriamETucker.
Accelerator IndieBio wants 'pioneering' startups to lead Revolution
Ron Leuty | Reporter | San Francisco Business Times
Biotech accelerator IndieBio is launching a $4.5 million fund to seed as many as 30 startups a year at a 15,000-square-foot South of Market workspace, known as The Revolution.
IndieBio, backed by Irish venture capital firm SOS Ventures, in February launched its training ground along Third Street in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood for scientists-cum-entrepreneurs. Now the new space — called The Revolution — will be home for biohackers, post-doctoral fellows as well as Ph.D. and biology students who receive $250,000 in cash and lab and support services in return for a convertible note.
IndieBio is accepting applications for its next batch of companies, which begin Sept. 15.
“It’s about the ideas,” said Ryan Bethencourt, IndieBio’s program director. “Any firm there has to do pioneering things.”
The Revolution — set to open in late June on Jessie Street, near Mint Plaza — also will house other SOS-backed companies working in robotics, artificial intelligence, hardware and other fields, Bethencourt said.
Though small compared to rounds of $30 million or more pulled in by a single company, the IndieBio I fund is the latest in a string of programs for early-stage biotech ventures. Mission Bay Capital LLC, a seed-stage venture firm created by the University of California’s QB3 research institute, said Monday that investors will pump $25 million into its oversubscribed second fund.
Still, Bethencourt said, there still is a big need to fund new approaches to the life sciences, including synthetic biology.
“We’re focusing on the biology of everything,” Bethencourt said. “Very few places fund early biotech.”
IndieBio came together after SOS partner Arvind Gupta connected with Bethencourt, who last year helped launch the Berkeley BioLabs biohacker space with Ron Shigeta and others. That relationship grew into IndieBio I and The Revolution.
“We are seeing a new wave of young biologists that are attacking old problems with new tools and fresh ideas, leading to new types of bio startups and creating a much-needed engine to drive Silicon Valley into the next century,” Gupta said.
| Ron covers biotech and sports business.
New hackerspace Berkeley BioLabs opens in southwest Berkeley
Perched on the edge of the Berkeley Marina is an unassuming building, home to a number of labs and, most recently, a new space for biotechnology researchers to experiment and push the boundaries of their fields.
Berkeley BioLabs, a self-proclaimed “hackubator,” aims to provide a creative space and shared lab for scientists while providing business support for potential products — in essence, to help researchers develop their ideas into reality.
Ryan Bethencourt, the lab’s CEO, claims that Berkeley BioLabs is the largest such hackerspace — a collaborative workspace for researchers to experiment on new ideas — for biotechnology researchers in the nation. In a space that roughly spans half the size of a tennis court, Bethencourt hopes scientists will develop products such as medical devices and ultimately accelerate biotechnology innovations.
“There are going to be new services and products that no one had predicted,” Bethencourt said.
Berkeley BioLabs formally opened last week, though it hasn’t yet finalized its membership. Expansive yet cozy, the space consists of one large lab room full of equipment and work benches as well as smaller discussion rooms.
Researchers will additionally have access to data and papers as well as one another, said Ron Shigeta, chief scientist and co-founder of the lab.
“Here, we’ve got a space where there’ll be a dozen or so different companies sharing ideas,” Shigeta said. “You’re going to get that environment where you’ll be inspired to take your idea to the next level.”
This is Bethencourt’s third such hackerspace — he also helped found nonprofit BioCurious in Sunnyvale and Oakland hackerspaces Sudo Room and Counter Culture Labs. Berkeley BioLabs joins several such spaces in the city, like Mothership HackerMoms on Adeline Street and a newly opened hackerspace for students in Cory Hall.
Yet according to Bethencourt, the lab is one of the first in the area to also focus on the development of biotechnology products to help “incubate” and fund new ideas.
“Berkeley has incredible science, yet it hasn’t been as successful at commercializing it as Stanford and Palo Alto,” Bethencourt said. “Berkeley has incredible potential as a place to build incredible companies. There are a lot of people who have a lot of great ideas but can’t make their ideas a reality without these tools.”
Mary Ward, a researcher who will be working at Berkeley BioLabs once it opens operations, intends to study the lifespan of flies by analyzing how their microbiome and genes affect their longevity. She emphasized the importance of having sufficient access to resources and being able to collaborate with other researchers and entrepreneurs.
“(This space is in) stark contrast to how research is going on right now,” Ward said. “I’m not in school or anything, so just getting access to papers is impossible.”
Berkeley BioLabs held its launch event Thursday, drawing roughly 70 people from the community — a turnout Bethencourt believes is promising and reflects the need for such a space.
Currently, the lab is looking for both individual researchers and companies to fill the space. Some future projects include protein-folding software and therapeutic development.
“The biggest part of science is creativity, but there’s not a place for high risk experiments,” Ward said. “That’s what’s going to be different about this space.”