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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Biotech Incubators Success Record

Accelerator puts up 1 to 2 million dollars, lab space and some admin support to start promising new biotech companies in the Seattle "build it and they will come" Lake Union area. They have been around since 2003 so it is interesting to see how things have gone since then. They've started up twelve companies.
  1. VieVax 2004
  2. VLST 2004
  3. Theraclone 2004
  4. Homestead 2005
  5. Allozyne 2005
  6. Seridigm 2006
  7. Recodagen 2008
  8. GPC-RX 2008
  9. Mirina 2008
  10. Xori 2009
  11. Acylin 2010
  12. Oncofactor 2011

So what happened? If you click on the link above you will see early success in series B financing and a long dry spell since then. Did financing dry up in late 2007 or did Accelerator start making bad decisions around this time?

The latest company to come out of Accelerator may be an indication of what is happening inside the offices. The company will be ran by Sarah Warren a 29 year old, newly minted PhD immunologist. Warren will develop experimental antibody drugs against biological targets selected by Carl Weisman, the Accelerator CEO. Weissman came up with his idea about 18 months ago.

“If you can stop cancer from blunting the immune system, then you can free up the immune system’s ability to clear the cancer cells,” says Weissman.

Accelerator seems to have left their old business model behind.
The evaluation of potential Accelerator companies is very rigorous and the process is extremely selective... Accelerator has seen and reviewed more than 500+ proposals, executive summaries, and business plans.

Why then are they now starting a company based on Weismans simplistic, select target/make antibody, idea? Why have they chosen a 29 year old with no experience in the real world? Is she really going to run the company?

Ms. Warren will report to the Accelerator scientific advisory board that includes Pat Gray, (Accelerator’s chief scientific director), David McElligott (lead scientist at Mirina, Accelerator) Ken Grabstein, (chief scientific officer of Allozyne, Accelerator) Mike Deeley, a former senior director at Icos, Steve Gillis, a managing director at Arch Venture Partners; Larry Tjolker, (a scientist at Xori, Accelerator) and Charlotte Hubbert, (a Kauffman Fellow at Accelerator).

A little heavy handed with the Accelerator upper echelon. With four employees, including Ms. Warren, Oncofactcor looks more like a post doc and three lab techs doing the bidding of the old white guys. Perhaps Accelerator has grown tired of the failures. They've dipped into their emergency funds to keep up the image of a thriving incubator of biotechnology companies. They've put someone in place whom they can shove around. Was this the vision of the early days of Accelerator?

Worst of all, they are using RNAi to validate their drug targets. The targets are selected with bioinformatics. Both RNAi and bioinformatics have been a disappointment to say the least. They don't have the ability to make the antibodies that are suppose to become their drugs. Instead they will spend their days struggling through the aweful lab experience of trying to get RNAi to work for that brief fleeting moment. From this they will instruct a CRO to make their antibodies. Failure is almost guaranteed. They would be better off waiting for the CRO to send antibodies and use them to validate targets. But then how would a 29 year old bioinformatics immunologist know that?

Will Accelerator one day close its doors? We think it will. It is a Cargo Cult Airport Incubator.

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