J.P. Morgan's new life sciences private equity arm will be hottest ticket at firm's upcoming conference

A few days ago, Stephen Squinto, Ph.D., had the kind of phone call that reminded him why he’s in the industry. The founder and former chief global development officer of Alexion (now owned by AstraZeneca), along with his new private equity partner Gaurav Gupta, were speaking with a 22-year-old woman whose life had been changed by one of Alexion’s rare disease drugs. She was correctly diagnosed at 14 and is now a law student who runs half-marathons. In the words of Squinto: “She can actually dream about the future.” 

Squinto, Gupta and Anya Schiess hope their new venture operation will have the opportunity to spur many more of those phone calls. The three make up the executive team of J.P. Morgan’s new life sciences private equity arm, Life Sciences Private Capital, which launched earlier this week. Both Squinto and Gupta also spent time at the well-known venture firm OrbiMed, while Schiess co-founded and was general partner at Healthy Ventures. 

In an interview with Fierce Biotech, Squinto and Gupta acknowledged they aren’t going to win every bet, but the hope is that the investments they make will be game changers. 

“Now, we're not going to find that that often. But, you know, we're going to look to find that occasionally, and that's what I hope happens,” said Squinto. 

In addition to the three managing partners, the team’s advisers are a who’s who of biotech players, including Laurie Glimcher, M.D., president and CEO of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and Jeffrey Leiden, M.D., Ph.D., executive chairman of Vertex Pharmaceuticals. The goal, according to Gupta, is to find innovative companies that aren’t currently nabbing the significant nine-digit fundraising rounds necessary to pursue ambitious clinical goals. 

“So that's where we can step in and really have the stature to syndicate those kinds of financings,” he said. 

It's too early for either partner to discuss who the new private equity cash would finance, saying that so far conversations have centered around top-level strategy. But Squinto hinted that the firm would be “in a pretty strong investment space” in the first half of next year.

When asked whether next year’s J.P. Morgan healthcare conference in San Francisco would be a coming-out party of sorts, Squinto said, “let’s put it this way: It’ll be a very, very important meeting for us.” He added the firm would likely be very busy meeting with prospective companies.

As for what kind of companies the team was interested in investing in, the firm wouldn’t commit itself to specific therapeutic areas but highlighted genetic medicine as an area that’s continuing to blossom. Squinto also mentioned autoimmune diseases and obesity as areas worth exploring.

“We're attentive to signals that we feel may be coming from either … large pharmas or regulators that might make those fields more attractive,” said Gupta.