Ex-Calistoga chief joins VC Frazier Healthcare to steer biotech bets

Former Calistoga Pharmaceuticals CEO Carol Gallagher has joined Frazier Healthcare as a venture partner.

Venture luminary Frazier Healthcare just closed an overcommitted $377 million fund, and now the Seattle investor has a biotech veteran onboard to help it make bets in life sciences, recruiting former Calistoga Pharmaceuticals CEO Carol Gallagher to serve as partner.

Gallagher, a 2010 Women in Biotech honoree, has worked in every stage of drug development throughout her career, winding through senior positions at Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Biogen Idec ($BIIB) before taking the helm at the Frazier-founded Calistoga in 2008. Under Gallagher's leadership, the company advanced idelalisib, its PI3 kinase inhibitor, through early development for certain blood cancers, and the drug's potential made quite an impression on Gilead Sciences ($GILD), which snapped up Calistoga in a 2011 deal worth up to $600 million.

Now, after serving on several boards of up-and-coming drug developers, Gallagher has found a home at Frazier, and transitioning into the VC world is a natural extension of her work at Calistoga and in helping shape the future of biotech upstarts, she said. As the former CEO of a venture-backed biotech now looking at companies from the other side, Frazier said she has learned that a company's culture and leadership can be nearly as predictive of success as its scientific and financial standing.

"The people side of this is very important," Gallagher told FierceBiotech. "Over time, what I've seen looking across the industry is companies that have to change out management teams a lot of times get chewed up. You need the right leadership from the start and people who understand how to attract and motivate talent. It really is a team sport."

Frazier Healthcare General Partner Patrick Heron

For Frazier, recruiting Gallagher is the end of a two-year courtship process, General Partner Patrick Heron said, as the venture firm has admired her skills since her earliest days at Calistoga. Gallagher took that company from proof of concept to a high-dollar exit, and Heron believes that end-to-end experience gives her great perspective on what it takes to do it again. And, as Frazier is looking almost exclusively at Series A deals this year, her expertise will be invaluable, he said.

"A lot of this business is understanding not just who has true breakthrough innovations but also who can deliver it clinically and commercially," Heron said. "In our portfolio, our best outcomes, both clinically and financially, have been companies that we helped get off the ground, and Calistoga is an example of that."

It's no secret that biotech venture capital is in the midst of a prolonged downswing, but Frazier, with a $377 million purse and an eye on emerging drug developers, is leading the way among optimistic investors retooling for the future, and both Gallagher and Heron said it's a good time to be a well-funded biotech financier.

"The great ideas don't go away," Heron said. "We're in a terrific position to help get started the next Calistoga and the next generation of companies."

- read the announcement

Special Report: 2010 Top 10 Women in Biotech - Carol Gallagher

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