The philosophy of Fierce 15 is a simple one: We want to see the best science combined with the best and brightest management teams, and we want to see the promise that they hold in their hands has, in this industry built on the all-or-nothing of risk and reward, a genuine chance of being the Next Big Thing.
When we look at the science, the teams, and talk to their leaders, the key issue is the future: In the next 5 to 10 years, could their product or platform produce something revolutionary and game-changing? Does it have a shot at becoming the new standard of therapy in its respective area?
This year’s crop comprises some of the best-funded startups we’ve seen and speaks volumes about the rude health of early-stage biomedical research.
The majority of our winners brought in early funding rounds north of $50 million, with seven series A winners: Vividion, BlackThorn, Tango, Relay, Repare, Gritstone and Vir getting $50 million, $54 million, $55 million, $57 million, $68 million, $102 million and $150 million, respectively.
That’s more than half a billion dollars in the first formal funding rounds for half our winners, and that is no small feat, particularly during a time of political upheaval in Europe and the U.S., combined with the politics of pricing that hit last year.
While collecting nominations in August, we hit the formal 10-year anniversary of the economic crash and recession of 2007, a time when funding receded for R&D, and some projects of that era we’ll never know about because they never got off the ground, given the tightening of purse strings.
A decade on, we’re in a better financial position. But speaking to the CEOs and leaders of these companies and their VCs, increased confidence isn’t what’s driving these big rounds—it’s the promise of the science and the teams managing these candidates, alongside a genuine excitement and confidence in new hopes for truly next-generation therapies.
While picking our winners, news broke of Novartis’ CAR-T cancer approval in the U.S., the first-ever cell therapy given a regulatory nod. This came in the same week that CAR-T biotech Kite Pharma was bought out by picky Gilead for nearly $12 billion.
This is genuinely exciting technology for patients and many in the field, the likes of which could change the way certain cancers are treated forever, and it only sharpens the focus on its “cousin tech” CRISPR-Cas9. CAR-T biotechs have won Fierce 15 awards before, and this sort of tech is at the core of what we want to see each year.
Biotech has also clearly never been so exciting for top Big Pharma executives, as many veterans from the top of the chain have jumped ship to these startups—including ex-Biogen chief George Scangos, former Novartis leader David Epstein, former Allergan oncology VP Stephen Eck, Clovis Andrew cofounder Andrew Allen, ex-GlaxoSmithKline exec Jason Gardner, Genentech vet Raphaël Rousseau, and former Pfizer leader Torben Straight Nissen, to name but a few.
We spend a chunk of our time at FierceBiotech writing about rotten companies, zombie biotechs, mismanagement issues, allegations of short attacks, poor trial designs, deaths and failures, because all too often that is the news of the day.
But talking to the CEOs and VC leaders of the Fierce 15 winners and nominees points up faith in the industry. While there are no guarantees of success, talking job growth, big raises and high confidence amid the approval of meds such as Novartis' Kymriah underscores why these biotech leaders are in the business, and why we report on the industry every day.