Julie Grant came to life sciences because she was hospitalized a lot as a child.
“As a student, I really loved science and math and thought I wanted to be a physician,” Grant said. “I realized when I was in college and working inside my organic professor’s lab, who had started a biotech company, that there was actually a world out there that wasn’t the practice of medicine that could help people and was really into science.”
After completing a degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Grant landed in the oncology unit at Genentech, where she held multiple roles including marketing planning manager for the lung and pancreatic cancer drug Tarceva. After several years at the biotech, she transitioned into venture capital, snagging an MBA on the way. Now, Canaan Partners, the firm she joined as an associate in 2013, is promoting her to general partner.
Grant is the fourth woman to join Canaan’s ranks of general partners. She joins Maha Ibrahim, who focuses on technology investments, and Nina Kjellson and Wende Hutton, who both focus on healthcare.
“Julie … exemplifies the hunter-not-gatherer mindset that is essential to success in venture capital. Recent additions to Julie’s portfolio include three new pharmaceutical companies in which she played a direct role forming with academic luminaries or founding as the CEO,” Kjellson and Rich Boyle, another one of Canaan’s 11 general partners, wrote in a blog post Thursday.
“We’re struck by the fact that Julie’s ascension to GP is one of the few such promotions for women within healthcare VC,” they wrote.
One of Grant’s three companies is Nocion Therapeutics, which is targeting nociceptors—the neurons that send pain or itch signals when they are inflamed—to treat conditions such as itch and cough. Five months after launching with science out of Harvard University and $27 million, Nocion became part of this year’s Fierce 15 class.
The other two companies are in stealth mode. One is a targeted oncology company that she’s been running as its CEO for more than a year, and the other is a startup based on science from Stanford University. Grant has also invested in Cellular Research, which was snapped up by medtech player Becton Dickinson in 2015, and Protagonist Therapeutics, which pulled off a $90 million IPO in 2016.
“I feel lucky that at this point in my career, I’ve worked on discovery-stage spinouts to multinational pharma companies … The biggest concentration of my career over the last 13 years has been in oncology,” she said. This piece is personal, too—Grant is the daughter of two parents who each have cancer.
“For me, a chemical characteristic, interesting PK curve or new modality is meaningful when it changes the therapeutic outcome. Some people are driven by creativity, the novelty of science—I love that—but what I care most about is how that innovation impacts care,” she said.
That said, Grant is also a builder at heart.
“I really do love building. I like arts and crafts, I like habitat for humanity—the whole process of creating something from nothing. Venture in its earliest stages is a lot of that,” she said. “There’s a blank piece of paper and you need to get parts together in the right way to make something magical happen. I think there are people who are really driven by scaling and managing big companies. What really makes me tick is that blank piece of paper.”