iZumi Bio - 2009 Fierce 15

FierceBiotech 2009 Fierce 15 winner

Based: Mountain View, CA
Founded: 2007
Website: www.izumibio.com
CEO: John Walker (photo)

The Scoop: iZumi has a two step-approach to the stem cell field. Their first initiative is aimed at creating new stem cell lines that can be far more effective than animal models for testing experimental therapies. Its second step involves engineering stem cells to treat neurodegenerative diseases. And it's got Kleiner Perkins--as well as former Vice President Al Gore--to help lend it that certain ain't-it-cool backing that always helps a new tech start-up gain a high profile.

What makes it Fierce: No one at iZumi Bio has any intention of taking a go-slow approach to their business. The biotech is aimed at pushing a paradigm shift in the drug development world, and that will take all hands on deck.

That fast-lane approach starts with the CEO, John Walker, who wrapped up a stint as chairman and CEO at Novacea, took the weekend off and then headed into work at iZumi on a Monday morning early this year.

"You can't let any grass grow under your feet," says Walker with a chuckle.

Like everyone working at iZumi, Walker has an impressive bio that spans significant roles in a slate of developers. Before Berta Strulovici joined the fast-growing company as CTO a few weeks ago, she had been vice president of basic research at the Merck Research Laboratories. New board member Corey Goodman hadn't just run his own biotech companies, he recently helmed Pfizer's initiative in the biotech field. And when iZumi went looking for scientific collaborators, it forged a deal with the world-renowned stem cell scientist Shinya Yamanaka.

It's no surprise that everyone at iZumi wears their mission statement on their sleeve. The company declares it's out to spur the industrialization of induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) technology with a mission of creating new therapeutics through cellular reprogramming and directed differentiation of patient cells.

The adult stem cell field is hot and iZumi has ambitious plans to take a leading role in the field.

Strulovici says she gained a lot of first-hand experience watching Big Pharma drug development programs end in failure. An iPS cell technology platform, utilizing cells taken directly from diseased patients, can go a long way to turning around the failure rate.

"Instead of jumping on the bandwagon, with all the news on creating iPS cells, it's more important to industrialize the process," says Walker. "A major goal is to create differentiated cell lines that become models of disease. We're using actual patient cell lines for discovery and target identification, and we're looking to partner with major pharmaceutical companies" working on metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, among other areas.

"For the purposes of determining efficacy of a program, you can do a preclinical study in the actual patient cells affected by the disease process," he adds. "That's more powerful than a mutant mouse model that mimics a small patient population."

What to Look For: Partnering with pharma should help provide new funds for iZumi. There's certainly a good shot at additional, non-dilutive government grants to help and the biotech is based in California, giving it a shot at gaining some additional help from the state's stem cell agency.

Venture backers: Kleiner Perkins Caulfied & Byers and Highland Capital Partners.

iZumi Bio - 2009 Fierce 15

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