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10 Truths (or Fictions) About Virtual Biotech Startups

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Few people appear to be on their way to building the next Genzyme or Genentech. Those companies required billions of dollars and the efforts of thousands of employees to achieve industry greatness. Nowadays, more and more biotech investors want to see how far a startup can get on modest sums in the millions of dollars and a small squad of veteran drug developers at the controls.

Savvy biotech backers see the virtual model as a way to get the most bang for their buck. Yet there's way more to the virtual approach in biotech than keeping costs at a minimum. And it's tricky to make generalizations about virtual biotech companies because the outfits take many different approaches, mixing and matching certain strategies as investors and entrepreneurs seek the optimal way to advance a pipeline, limit various risks and generate significant returns.

However, they all embrace efficiency in some way. You won't find them building out big wet labs and many rely heavily on outsourcing to CROs and freelance pharma pros.

Take Tioga Pharmaceuticals. The San Diego-based biotech has two full-time employees for an operation with its sole drug candidate, asimadoline, in Phase III clinical development for irritable bowel syndrome. 

"I think we've taken this to an art form with the degree of virtualization that we've incorporated into this particular company," Stuart Collinson, chairman and CEO of Tioga Pharmaceuticals, told FierceBiotech in an interview.

Collinson is a partner at Forward Ventures, which is among Atlas Venture, Index Ventures, CMEA and a growing number of other VC outfits and Big Pharma players trying out the virtual path to biotech success. Based on my interactions with some of these players and others--including Vertex founder Joshua Boger and the CEO of a lesser-known Stanford University spinoff--I've pulled together 10 truths or fictions about virtual biotech operations. -- Ryan McBride (email | Twitter)