Eight Lessons from Mark Levin (Third Rock Ventures/Millennium)
Surveying great inventors and businesses
Axial partners with great founders and inventors. We invest in early-stage life sciences companies such as Appia Bio, Seranova Bio, Delix Therapeutics, Simcha Therapeutics, among others often when they are no more than an idea. We are fanatical about helping the rare inventor who is compelled to build their own enduring business. If you or someone you know has a great idea or company in life sciences, Axial would be excited to get to know you and possibly invest in your vision and company . We are excited to be in business with you - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Levin is the co-founder of Third Rock Ventures and Millennium Pharmaceuticals. A legend in the biotech industry, Mark’s career has spanned ~4 decades where he has formed and invested in companies that have brought transformative medicines to patients and new technologies to healthcare.
1.“We're seeing fundamental changes not only in the nature of drugs and drug making but also in the way value is created and profits are distributed throughout the industry. Drug development is an extremely time consuming and expensive process—a typical drug takes 15 years and $500 million to bring to market—and a company's position in that process is critical in determining its profit potential. When Millennium was founded eight years ago, we situated ourselves at the furthest upstream end of the industry value chain: doing basic research into genes and proteins and selling our findings to big pharmaceutical companies. But as the distribution of value in the industry has changed, we've moved downstream, toward the patients who actually use and pay for the drugs.” Mark Levin co-founded Millennium Pharmaceuticals, a company that started off as a target discovery platform in drug development and over a decade made a pivot to an internal pipeline. As genomics was taking off in the early 1990s, Millennium was able to create a new category upstream in the drug development process. When the genomics category became commoditized, the company had to move downstream toward making their own medicines.
2.“You can’t overreact to great ideas. Things just don’t work that quickly.” Especially in biotechnology, there is so much scientific risk, taking a long-view is in the best interests of the patients and founders.
3.“Now, once you have the right people/team tackling a particular disease, it is key to have a well thought out plan up front in order to obtain The Right Drug for the Right Target for the Right Patient at The Right Time. This means having validated genetics, doing the right biological/drug discovery experiments and coupling these efforts with Translational Medicine early in the drug discovery process. The right Natural History Studies, the right subsets of patients in clinical trials to hit your TPP along with the right biomarkers to substantiate your success. And then when you get the data, be prepared to iterate on your hypothesis. Do not fall in love with your own genius- it will disappoint you time after time.” Drug development is multi-phasic. Success in one stage means you can go to the next but doesn’t guarantee success. Using as much data as possible, for drug development mainly genetics and real-world data, to inform decision making is the most important method to increase your odds of success.
4.“Always, always invest in great people and only great people. And as your companies develop, and become successful, stay focused on the patient.” Mark is saying that great people will eventually find a great idea.
5.“One day, everyone will have their own genomes mapped out and stored in memory chips, and doctors will look at the information in those chips and prescribe accordingly: "Mary, you should take this drug, but Mark, you should take that drug, because different things in your genes are causing your asthma." We want to be the leader in personalized drug therapies. In fact, our expressed goal is to be the first company to deliver health care tailored to the patient's genetic profile. To achieve that goal, we need to reach all the way to the doctors and the patients.” This is the vision for Millennium that ultimately led to Foundation Medicine, Agios, and others that Mark and Third Rock Ventures formed and invested in.
6.“If venture isn’t investing in early stage, and Big Pharma isn’t investing in early stage, there’s going to be a big hole there.” In the 2000s, biopharma lowered their investment in R&D, and biotech venture capital was not performing too well and was moving out of early-stage investing. This was the impetus for Mark Levin to co-founded Third Rock Ventures to fill in this gap.
7.“One academic with one idea will not be successful, mostly. We go out and meet all the best people in the world and we [together] develop an R&D plan, a discovery plan, [and reflect on] does this make regulatory and reimbursement sense … we’ll spend years on that idea.” Mark is describing at a high-level the process Third Rock used to build new biotech companies.
8.“You can hire the best 25 people in the world, but great individual effort will not alone build an outstanding company. You need the genius of the group to make it happen.” Mark is focused on group genius especially in biotech where it is very rare for an individual to be an expert in the large set of fields that make a drug successful.