Startups, Events

What sparks the investment passions of David Shaywitz of Takeda Ventures? (Q&A)

The Takeda Ventures Senior Partner will take part in the panel discussion Trends in Oncology Investing at the MedCity CONVERGE Conference July 11-12 in Philadelphia.

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By the Silicon Valley Bank’s reckoning, investors poured $3.4 billion into biotech businesses in oncology last year, with early-stage deals receiving the lion’s share of this funding (70 of 86 deals). The technology behind these companies includes immunotherapy, noninvasive testing to bring more personalized approaches to cancer treatment. But another important trend is the rise of data science companies that have focused on supporting drug discovery, drug development as well as those that aggregate cancer treatment data to support both clinicians and patients. Although Flatiron Health, which Roche acquired, has become a prominent example, Takeda Ventures Senior Partner David Shaywitz has highlighted other clinical data companies, such as Tempus and Cota, whose chief medical officer is speaking at CONVERGE.

At the MedCity CONVERGE conference next week, investment in cancer treatment and the trends we are seeing in this area will be one topic of interest. David Shaywitz, a senior partner with Takeda Ventures, will take part in a panel discussion on the topic at the Philadelphia conference from July 11-12. In a Q&A, Shaywitz talked about his firm’s early stage investment strategy and why he’s excited about the convergence he’s seeing between biotech and health IT.

Note: This exchange has been lightly edited.

David Shaywitz, Takeda Ventures

How did you come to work for Takeda Ventures?

I’m passionate about opportunities at interface of pharma and tech. It feels like there’s so much excitement that’s going on, in addition of course to so much hype.  I’ve known Andy Plump, head of Takeda R&D, for years, ever since we overlapped at Merck, and I think the world of him and the direction he’s taking the organization.  I am also a huge fan of Eric Perakslis, who led data science for Takeda when I joined (now he’s joined Datavant as Chief Science Officer).  The idea of joining an outstanding life science venture team, serving as a senior partner and building out a data science and technology practice was an exceptionally compelling opportunity.

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What informs your firm’s investment strategy?

TVI itself is generally an early stage life science VC that focuses on areas in strategic alignment with Takeda — i.e. opportunities in areas of neuroscience, oncology, and GI — but manages positions for financial return.  The idea of investing in early stage data science and technology (DST) opportunities that are in areas related to drug discovery, development, and delivery is still a fairly new concept, in VC as a whole, and in corporate VC in particular. To me, of course, this represents an incredibly exciting opportunity, as we have a chance to figure out how to do this well.

Do you believe the venture arms of a pharma company has an advantage over other corporate venture investors in healthcare? Compared with an institutional investor? Does that make you more attractive to your target companies? Less?

In my mind, the differences between individual funds generally are more relevant than the category in which a fund is in. Arguably, one of the really exciting things like venture investing at the interface of technology and pharma is that these are incredibly early days, and as far as I can tell, no one has figured this out.  In contrast, when you think about early stage life science investing, you look at folks like Bruce Booth at Atlas Venture, and say,  ‘wow, that’s kind of a gold standard.’  Similar examples exist in different areas of tech.

But in health tech — especially data and technology companies aspiring to impact how we discover, develop, and deliver drugs — it feels like things are still wide open, and you could ask whether there’s even a there, there.

I deeply believe there is, and I think success in this space, from the perspective of both entrepreneur and investor, will require not only technology expertise but also a deep feel of the sort of questions that really require solutions.  A top of mind example here is Dr. Amy Abernethy, chief medical officer and chief science officer with Flatiron Health (who I interviewed with GE Ventures Senior Managing Director Lisa Suennen on our Tech Tonics podcast). She recognized the underlying problem that needed to be solved.  She didn’t say ‘Here’s cool tech, where can we apply it?’ but rather said, ‘There’s a huge need to organize oncology data. Here’s what a solution should look like’. And then she wasn’t too proud to insist on purely technical solution components and created a system where detailed, validated data extraction was performed by trained people.

The secret ingredient of most successful businesses at this interface, I suspect, will be someone like Amy.

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