Volume 94 Issue 32 | pp. 21-23
Issue Date: August 8, 2016

Measuring a serial entrepreneur’s success

By any yardstick, Robert Langer’s creation of 31 start-ups is a testament to his technical and business acumen
Department: Business
Keywords: entrepreneurship, venture capital, start-ups, nanotechology, materials science
Jump to: Path of ingenuity
Langer’s entrepreneurial journey has led to more than 30 start-ups over 30 years.

Bind Therapeutics, a 10-year-old nanomedicine firm, declared bankruptcy in May and last month agreed to sell its assets to Pfizer. Although collaborations with leading drug companies had helped Bind move candidates into the clinic, it achieved mixed results there. Toward the end, it was trying to restructure its finances, refocus its R&D, and partner its lead candidate.

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Credit: Yang Ku, C&EN
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Credit: Yang Ku, C&EN

Although such downturns are common in the drug R&D world, this one was a rare setback for a firm based on technology from the lab of chemical engineer Robert Langer at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

By the time Bind was founded in 2006, Langer had already helped create at least 20 companies, generally in the areas of medical devices, drug delivery and development, and tissue and cell engineering. Although there are other notable scientist-entrepreneurs, such as the Institute for Systems Biology’s Leroy Hood and Harvard University’s Gregory Verdine, it is likely that Langer’s record as an inventor and company creator is unsurpassed in the chemistry, engineering, and materials science worlds.

The proof is in the pudding. Over three decades, Langer has helped found about 30 companies that have raised an estimated $2 billion in venture capital and private equity funding to date. A large chunk of that—$650 million—went to the mRNA drug company Moderna Therapeutics. And although it’s still early in the life of many Langer companies, they are clearly amassing a remarkable record of accomplishment.

In the start-up world, accomplishment can be measured many ways. Investors generally want to see companies get acquired or hold an initial public offering (IPO) of stock. Barring those two options, a company is expected to turn a profit or shut down.

Among companies connected to Langer, nine have become publicly traded, raising more than $300 million combined through IPOs—and more through follow-on offerings. Recently, Selecta Biosciences managed to raise a respectable $70 million despite a challenging period for IPOs.

“Because I realized it was an effective path for transforming science into life- saving and life-improving inventions.”

Robert Langer of MIT on why he started his first company (Nat. Biotechnol. 2013, DOI: 10.1038/nbt.2609)

On par with other venture-backed start-ups, 10 of his companies were acquired and three merged with other firms. The deals were worth as much as $230 million. At least four Langer-connected companies have themselves created new start-ups.

On average, according to the National Venture Capital Association, about 200 biotech and medical device firms receive initial venture capital funding in a given year. That Langer has been able to start up at least one company, if not two or three, in any year is a tribute both to the productivity of his lab and the value that investors assign to his work. The venture capital firm Polaris Partners has invested in at least 20 of Langer’s companies, spending more than $220 million.

Noteworthy is that just a handful of Langer’s companies have gone bankrupt or shut down, a record that far exceeds expectations for venture-capital-backed firms. Among biopharma and medical device start-ups, “more companies fail than succeed,” often within a few years, according to NVCA.

It’s also a major accomplishment that the science originating at MIT continues to be employed, even if the company based on it has ceased to operate. For example, Juniper Pharmaceuticals is testing products that use technology acquired from the now-defunct Combinent BioMedical Systems. And companies that bought the early start-ups still find value in the acquired technology.

Of the original Langer firms still operating, most have products in clinical testing. Some of the more recently founded ones are already developing lead product candidates. Many of the companies have partnered with major firms. And a few—including Living Proof, Momenta Pharmaceuticals, and T2 Biosystems—have brought products to the market and are generating revenues.

As a result, it appears that Langer has notched another accomplishment, one that has nothing to do with making money. He started his first company, he wrote in a 2013 Nature Biotechnology article (DOI:10.1038/nbt.2609), “because I realized it was an effective path for transforming science into life-saving and life-improving inventions.”


Path of ingenuity
Langer’s entrepreneurial journey has led to more than 30 start-ups over 30 years.

Year founded
Company name

Icon for Technology focusTechnology focus
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding$10 million to Estimated venture and private equity funding
Icon for Major milestonesMajor milestones
Icon for Current status (2015 figures)Current status (2015 figures)

1987
Enzytech

Icon for Technology focusMicrosphere drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding$10 million to $20 million
Icon for Major milestonesAcquired by Alkermes in 1993 stock deal.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures)Technology in use.

1987
Opta Food Ingredients

Icon for Technology focus Microspheres for food applications
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $10 million to $20 million
Icon for Major milestones IPO in 1992. Acquired in 2002 for $28 million; now part of SunOpta.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology in use

1988
Neomorphics

Icon for Technology focusBiocompatible materials
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $6 million
Icon for Major milestones Acquired by Advanced Tissue Sciences for $21 million in 1992. Bankrupt in 2002.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology acquired by Smith & Nephew and in use at regenerative medicine firm Organogenesis.

1992
Focal

Icon for Technology focus Biodegradable materials for surgery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $59 million
Icon for Major milestones $25 million IPO in 1997. Acquired in 2001 by Genzyme for total of $25 million.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology in use

1993
Acusphere

Icon for Technology focus Microsphere imaging agents
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $95 million
Icon for Major milestones $53 million IPO in 2003. Later delisted. Failed to get product approved.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) No longer operating

1993
EnzyMed

Icon for Technology focus Combinatorial biocatalysis for drug R&D
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding na
Icon for Major milestones Acquired by Albany Molecular Research Inc. in 1999 for $21 million.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology may be in use.

1997
Advanced Inhalation Research

Icon for Technology focus Pulmonary drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $2 million
Icon for Major milestones Acquired by Alkermes for $114 million in 1999. Technology part of 2011 spin-off Civitas Therapeutics.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Civitas acquired by inhaled drug developer Acorda Therapeutics in 2014.

1998
Reprogenesis

Icon for Technology focus Tissue growth scaffolds
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $17 million
Icon for Major milestones Merged in 2000 with Creative BioMolecules and Ontogeny to form Curis.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Related programs largely suspended in 2002.

1998
Sontra Medical

Icon for Technology focus Transdermal drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $18 million
Icon for Major milestones Merged with Echo Therapeutics in 2007. Technology licensed to Ferndale Pharma Group.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Glucose monitoring system in development. Echo’s stock delisted in July 2016.

1999
TransForm Pharmaceuticals

Icon for Technology focus Polymorph crystallization
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $45 million
Icon for Major milestones Acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 2005 for $230 million.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology in use.

1999
Microchips Biotech

Icon for Technology focus Silicon-based drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $58 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Four funding rounds. Equity investment by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries in 2015.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) In clinical development partnerships.

2000
Combinent BioMedical Systems

Icon for Technology focus Transvaginal drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $5 million
Icon for Major milestones Four funding rounds. No longer operating.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Technology acquired by Juniper Pharmaceuticals and now in clinical testing.

2001
Momenta Pharmaceuticals

Icon for Technology focus Complex-sugar-based drugs
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $40 million
Icon for Major milestones $35 million IPO in 2004. Two products approved. Three in clinical testing.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) $90 million in revenues, net loss.

2003
Pulmatrix

Icon for Technology focus Inhaled therapeutics
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $48 million
Icon for Major milestones Three funding rounds. Merged with Ruthigen in 2015 and went public.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Three products in clinical trials. $1.1 million in revenues, net loss.

2004
Pervasis Therapeutics

Icon for Technology focus Therapies for vascular healing
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $40 million
Icon for Major milestones Completed Series C funding. Acquired by Shire for up to $200 million in 2012.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Development of Vascugel halted in 2014 aer Phase II.

2005
Arsenal Medical

Icon for Technology focus Nanofiber drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $47 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Four funding rounds. Spun out 480 Biomedical in 2011.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Developing polymer foams and fiber for tissue therapy and repair.

2005
InVivo Therapeutics

Icon for Technology focus Scaffolds for spinal cord therapy
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $11 million
Icon for Major milestones One funding round. Became public in 2010. Product in clinical testing.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) No revenues, net loss.

2006
Semprus BioSciences

Icon for Technology focus Medical device coatings
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $26 million
Icon for Major milestones Completed Series B funding. Acquired by Teleflex in 2012 for $30 million up front.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Issues encountered developing technology, but Teleflex expects to file for approval in catheter application.

2006
T2 Biosystems

Icon for Technology focus Nanoparticle diagnostics, instruments
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $93 million
Icon for Major milestones $60 million IPO in 2014. Two products launched.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) $2.8 million in revenues, net loss.

2006
Bind Therapeutics

Icon for Technology focus Nanoparticle-based therapeutics
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $73 million
Icon for Major milestones $71 million IPO in 2013.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Bankrupt, assets to be sold for $40 million. Two candidates in clinical testing.

2007
Selecta Biosciences

Icon for Technology focus Targeted nanoparticles
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $152 million
Icon for Major milestones Completed Series E funding. $70 million IPO in June 2016.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) One clinical and two preclinical candidates.

2008
Taris Biomedical

Icon for Technology focus Urological drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $52 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Sold lead clinical-stage asset to Allergan in 2014 for up to $588 million.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Relaunched late 2015 with $32 million investment. Bladder cancer agent in clinical testing.

2008
Seventh Sense Biosystems

Icon for Technology focus Microneedle blood collection
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $33 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Completed Series B funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Soon to file for marketing authorization in the U.S. and Europe.

2009
Kala Pharmaceuticals

Icon for Technology focus Mucosal drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $114 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Completed Series C funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) One ophthalmic candidate in clinical testing for three conditions.

2011
XTuit Pharmaceuticals

Icon for Technology focus Microenvironment-activated drugs
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $26 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Completed Series A funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Developing lead candidates.

2011
480 Biomedical

Icon for Technology focus Bioresorbable materials for drug delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $45 million
Icon for Major milestones Spin-out of Arsenal Medical. Completed Series C funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Scaffold to treat vascular disease/injury in clinical testing.

2011
Moderna Therapeutics

Icon for Technology focus Modified mRNA delivery
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $650 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Four funding rounds. Created four therapy-focused companies.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Partnerships with big pharma and nonprofit organizations for clinical development.

2012
Blend Therapeutics

Icon for Technology focus Biologic drug conjugates
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $84 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Completed Series C funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Now Tarveda Therapeutics. Spun off platinum cancer drug firm Placon Therapeutics in January 2016.

2013
SQZ Biotech

Icon for Technology focus Cell therapy engineering
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding $6 million
Icon for Major milestones Private. Completed Series A funding.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Signed Roche partnership worth up to $500 million.

2015
Olivo Labs

Icon for Technology focus Dermatological biomaterials
Icon for Estimated venture and private equity funding Seed funding
Icon for Major milestones Materials based on technology developed at Living Proof.
Icon for Current status (2015 figures) Start-up phase with materials in in vivo testing.

na = not readily available. Sources: Company information, SEC filings, Crunchbase, Informa Strategic Transactions, CB Insights


 
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