Editor's Corner—Biotech insiders savor 49ers' latest victory in Super Bowl run

Usually, journalists aren’t supposed to display any bias in their work. It’s a foundational part of the job meant to instill trust and faith in the reporting. 

Well, not this story. I’m a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan basking in the team’s second Super Bowl appearance in four years, thanks to one of the wildest games I’ve ever seen. And numerous biotech execs and investors were at Sunday’s NFC Championship game, roaring with the thousands of Niners Faithful on hand to watch the home team erase a 17-point halftime deficit to come back and defeat the Detroit Lions. 

The Lions were the Cinderella story this season, boasting the best team in more than 30 years en route to the conference final. But in the words of the great Keke Palmer after not recognizing a photo of former Vice President Dick Cheney, “sorry to this man.” 

Avenzo Therapeutics CEO Athena Countouriotis, M.D., a first-time season ticket holder this year, was there to witness the magic. She grew up in the Bay Area watching the Niners with her parents, often from home, and now flies into town from San Diego. SAN DIEGO! She said the highlight of the game was watching standout wide receiver Deebo Samuel lying on the field after the victory, taking it all in.

“The games we had at Levi's Stadium were really just something I'll never forget this year,” she told me. 

photo of Athena Countouriotis and Elizabeth Naldi-Jacob seated on a panel
Avenzo CEO Athena Countouriotis, M.D., sporting her 49ers chain at Fierce Biotech's JPM Week event (Matt Rickman/Fierce Life Science Events)

Her studded Niners chain, worn while participating in a panel at Fierce’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare conference event earlier this month, did not make an appearance. She said it was simply because she didn’t want to risk security taking issue, holding up any precious viewing time. A very fair and probably wise choice. Maybe it’ll come out at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas, which Countouriotis says she bought airplane tickets to back in October 2023. Her side gig this week, she says, is to secure game tickets. 

Did you attend the game? Heading to Las Vegas? Max Bayer wants to live vicariously through you. Tell us your 49ers stories.

Another team having a pretty good week is CG Oncology. Just days after locking in a behemoth $380 million IPO, far above the initial ask, CEO Arthur Kuan and investors were at Levi’s to watch the game, per a photo on LinkedIn posted by board member Victor Tong, Jr. Tong, a managing director at Decheng Capital, was joined by fellow Decheng managing director Min Cui, Ph.D., and Longitude Capital's Brian Liu. Just like the company’s ceremonious Nasdaq bell ringing, confetti can be seen falling in the background at the game. I wasn’t able to get hold of the four in attendance to ask which victory was sweeter, though my guess is it’s the nine-digit one. 

Photo of Verve CEO Sek Kathiresan with his son at a football game
Verve CEO Sek Kathiresan, M.D., with his son before Sunday's NFC Championship. (Sek Kathiresan )

The mood may have been a little more somber for Sek Kathiresan M.D., CEO of Verve Therapeutics. The Boston resident flew cross-country to go to the game with his son, who he says has been a Lions fan since kindergarten. (He’s about to turn 16.) Now that’s dedication. The mood naturally shifted as the Lion’s seemingly unstoppable momentum ground to a halt in the third quarter. Kathiresan used the opportunity to relay some of the inevitable life lessons that sports produce. 

“There’s a lot of losing in life, and you have to learn from losses,” he recounted telling his son in an interview. 

Allow me then to take this moment to be slightly corny, but earnest, as I redirect this story back to my beat. 

There are also a lot of losses in clinical development. Just like any team, companies toil and tinker with their science, hoping for data that signal a positive benefit for patients. Still, painful failures can unfold, and just like teams that go back to the drawing board in the offseason, scientists do the same, hoping that their next molecule, their next candidate, will be successful. 

“Drug development progress is never a straight line,” Kathiresan aptly put it. 

In both victory and defeat, there’s always wisdom to gain and ways to improve. Go Niners!