From the Bakar Labs Tenant Spotlight Series
By: Niki Borghei
Valitor is developing disruptive new medicines for a wide range of life-threatening and function-threatening diseases. Valitor combines the biophysics of biopolymers with the potency and specificity of therapeutic proteins to generate a new generation of biopharmaceuticals. Their biopolymers are substantially larger than any therapeutic protein, and they have properties that cannot be achieved by proteins alone. Therefore, their biopharmaceuticals can be more potent, more durable, more stable, and ultimately better for the patients than any other products currently on the market or in development.
“I’ve always enjoyed building things from the ground up,” said Dr. Wesley Jackson, President and Chief Science Officer of Valitor, “but I assumed that by pursuing a career in biotechnology, I would have to join a larger organization with the infrastructure needed to do the science.”
When he was an undergraduate, he was given the opportunity to intern at a medical device startup company. He worked there two summers, and during that time, the company grew from 5 to 45 people. “It was amazing to see a company and a team grow, and the startup culture really got into my blood,” he said. “Unfortunately, while the idea of working in a startup had become appealing, the needs of a biotech startup at the time were out of reach. It was really QB3 and the opening of the first garage incubator at UCSF that made me realize a biotech startup was feasible. Instead of needing millions of dollars to build the infrastructure for a company, we were able to start Valitor with a $300k NIH grant.”
Valitor is now a tenant at Bakar Labs, the incubator for startups at the Bakar BioEnginuity Hub. When asked why Bakar Labs appealed to him as the place where Valitor will grow, he highlighted the strong community that helps startups thrive.
“It is great to be a part of a community of bioentrepreneurs. I love seeing ideas crosspollinate and having opportunities for entrepreneurs to help each other.”
Being part of a supportive, knowledgeable community is more important to the health of a startup than one might expect. That is why Bakar Labs offers young companies access to mentors, investors, and networking events. Although the intersection of science and business is an exciting place to be, there is no shortage of challenges.
“Getting the science right is hard enough, but at least I was trained to be a scientist,” he said. “The skill that I had to learn the quickest was to keep all the company’s stakeholders aligned. I naively assumed that if the science was great enough, it would be sufficient to launch the business. But, instead, I found that a company can only exist because there is a team of people who have an interest in it existing. Right from the start, there are dozens of people who need to be motivated to help move the company forward. And that number will grow to hundreds before you know it. This includes some obvious stakeholders, like investors, employees, advisors, and clinical key opinion leaders (KOLs). But it also includes many of the unsung heroes of company creation, like core facility operators, landlords, clinical research organizations (CROs), lawyers, bankers, and consultants. Inspiring a diverse group with your vision will help
generate a powerful team to help overcome any other challenges that you may face. Creating opportunities for everyone on that team to succeed when the company succeeds is important to make sure the team can stay intact for the long-haul.”
Despite the challenges of entrepreneurship, Valitor has persevered, fueled by the goal of making a substantial impact on how patients receive treatments. They are set to revolutionize the world of biotechnology, and they’re just getting started.
“We are developing our platform to be interchangeable between different types of therapeutic proteins and biopolymers. Each intermediate component of our compounds is designed to independently control the key pharmacological properties that are needed for a given indication. This removes a great deal of complexity when designing the compounds, and it enables us to overlap a lot of the manufacturing and scale-up aspects of drug development. The work that we are doing now will facilitate the development of our additional pipeline products, and we’re just scratching the surface of all the indications we plan to target,” Dr. Jackson shared.
As for what advice he has for current and future entrepreneurs, he said, “Be persistent. Be prepared to hear “no” hundreds of times and for hundreds of people to tell you your ideas aren’t fundable. Integrate that feedback, find coaches, iterate on your ideas, but don’t give up on your vision. Make contingency plans and be prepared to use them. Do whatever it takes to keep inching your ideas toward reality.”