A champion and multibillion-dollar benefactor of global health causes, Bill Gates and his foundation have partnered early and often with biotech companies, seeking breaking advances in science to snuff infectious diseases and other ailments afflicting the world's most vulnerable populations. Separate from his foundation, Gates has a growing portfolio of venture investments in biotech companies such as Nimbus Discovery and Foundation Medicine (a 2012 Fierce 15 company), both of which are focused on improving cancer treatment.
In biotech, the "Gates-backed" stamp carries weight. As a co-founder and leader of Microsoft ($MSFT), Gates helped pioneer personal computing and blazed an entrepreneurial path for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other tech royals to follow. On top of being one of the great business innovators of all time, Gates attaches his name only to societal and health matters of great global importance. If a biotech wins his support, it instantly becomes part of the epic Gates story, which people around the world follow closely.
As Forbes reports, Gates' estimated $67 billion fortune makes him the second-richest man in the world. (Yet the $28-billion-plus he has given away makes him the most benevolent person around the globe.) It's hard to quantify exactly how much Gates has invested in biotech, not that the sheer dollar figures pack as much punch as the legitimacy his name has lent to a long list of new biotechnologies.
Gates has brought the spotlight to several deserving drug or diagnostics developers recently. In January, Gates and fellow billionaire Yuri Milner contributed to a $13.5 million extension of a Series B round at Cambridge, MA-based Foundation Medicine, which is commercializing a cancer diagnostic that screens patients for more than 200 gene mutations to guide personalized attacks on malignancies. In oncology, that funding built on Gates' 2011 seed investment in Nimbus Discovery, which uses computer-aided drug discovery to nail down compounds against cancer and inflammation.
Gates' participation in the seed round at Nimbus followed his $10 million investment in the chemistry software provider Schrödinger, which supports drug-discovery efforts at the startup with manpower and technology.
For biotech outfits working on next-gen treatments for infectious diseases, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has become a viable funding source. In November the foundation headlined a syndicate behind a $13 million first-round financing for the MIT spinoff Visterra to develop a universal therapeutic against influenza. That deal came just weeks after nearby Genocea listed the Gates Foundation as one of the backers of a $30 million Series C round to fund work on a pipeline of T cell vaccines, including a lead candidate against herpes simplex virus-2. The foundation has also supported a much longer list of biotech outfits such as vaccines developers Tetragenics and Liquidia.
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