Biotech a tough business

While starting a business in the field of biotechnology may seem exciting, it is more difficult than many people think, said Constance McKee SOM ’86, the co-founder and CEO of Woodside, Ca.-based Manzanita Pharmaceuticals.

In the first talk of a week-long program sponsored by the Yale Biotechnology & Pharmaceutical Society, McKee and fellow biotechnology industry experts Sohini Chowdhury and Gregory Licholai spoke about the intricacies of the entrepreneurial process from scientific innovation to product development. Speaking on Monday night to an audience of over 50 graduate students at the Yale School of Management, McKee discussed the “back-and-forth process” of obtaining a patent and dispelled common misconceptions.

“Just because you get a patent doesn’t mean you make money, and it also doesn’t mean it you’re protected from someone else making the same product,” she said. “All it does is give you the right to sue someone else who just ripped off your idea.”

McKee said competition in the pharmaceutical industry has increased lately, citing globalization as the primary cause. Last year, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey combined saw 14 percent growth in the biomedical industry. In that same time period, the industry grew by only 1 percent in the United States.

McKee then turned the discussion over to Chowdhury, the associate director at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, who provided insight into the role that her organization plays in the search for a cure to Parkinson’s disease. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, she said, must raise money for all of its operating expenses because it does not have an endowment. With no obligation to generate a profit for investors, the foundation functions as an intermediary between academics and industry researchers, allowing the two groups to share data and research tools.

The next speaker was Greg Licholai MED ’95, the chief operational officer of Proteostasis Therapeutics, a research company that is working to develop new drugs to maintain the body’s natural balance of proteins.

Licholai discussed the managerial aspect of research and development, giving information based on his own experience on how to start and operate a biotechnology company.

“It really takes a lot of conviction to champion something,” he said.

Licholai discussed his checklist for evaluating various aspects of startup companies, including the companies’ intellectual property, development path, management, competition, market and estimated time to make a profit.

Colleen Feriod GRD ’15, who is studying cellular and molecular physiology, said the entrepreneurial process can feel overwhelming at times.

“There are so many steps in the process in taking a discovery from my lab bench to getting a patent,” she said. “But to hear them break [the entrepreneurial process] down a little bit, you realize that it can be done.”

The program’s next talk, which is about managing risk in clinical development, will be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at 135 Prospect St.

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