A pharmaceutical insider and a music expert launch a VC for health care

D..A. Wallach’s first meeting with his business partner could have been the setting for a romantic comedy.

Wallach met Tim Wright in 2018 at a beach restaurant in Del Mar, California, where they analyzed the seafood health industry. “Then we ended up, if I remember correctly, walking on the beach. It was very romantic, ”Wallach said.

Wallach, 37, was a music expert whose college band caught the attention of Pharrell Williams and Kanye West, leading to a job at Spotify and a mind-boggling decade exploring the California lifestyle. You can see Wallach making a cameo in his friend Damien Chazelle’s 2016 film “La La Land” as a lead singer of a 1980s cover band. Wright, 67, had spent his career working in drug discovery at Novartis and Pfizer, creating successful products for inflammatory diseases.

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They couldn’t have been more different, but that day an unlikely couple was born.

Together, the two men became the latest weird biotech couple, launching a new VC company for health care called Time BioVentures. The firm boasts an eclectic mix of consultants and investors that Wallach has met over the years through connections in the music, technology and healthcare industries. Facebook investor Sean Parker, whom Wallach met via Spotify, serves as an advisor, along with ARCH Venture Partners CEO Bob Nelsen and Nobel laureate Jim Allison.

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The creation of Time BioVentures and Wallach’s introduction to Wright unfold like a classic Wallach tale. It all ties in to billionaire Ron Burkle, whom Wallach met at a Grammy party. (Diddy introduced them after working with Wallach on a song. Wallach later helped Diddy and Burkle invest in Spotify, according to the Wall Street Journal.) Wallach’s friendship with Burkle eventually led him to a conference room. of the California Institute for Biomedical Research (Calibr), of which Burkle became a board member in 2017.

“I walk into the room and there’s this guy sitting there. He looks so young. … But he asked some good questions. He’s articulate, ”recalled former Calibr vice president Jim Schaeffer.

Wallach had already begun dabbling in biotech investments. In 2015, Wallach launched an investment firm with Burkle called Inevitable Ventures. She was largely investing him and Burkle’s money, and landed a handful of top-notch deals, including Beam Therapeutics’ Series A round.

He and I have a lot in common. We are both very curious and interested in science, “said Parker, a friend and board member of Spotify who has also moved into the healthcare industry.” He is extremely brilliant and one of the few people, like me, who has been able to change career two or three times “.

Although Wallach has what Nelsen described as a “good nose for innovation,” he realized he needed more. Wallach decided to change tactics, involving more outside investors and a partner with a background in pharmaceutical science and research and development. “There is so much in drug development, particularly in diagnostic development, that you can’t learn. No matter how smart you are, no matter how many books you read, it just comes from experience, ”Wallach said.

When Calibr’s meeting ended, Wallach told Schaeffer that he was looking for a scientist to help him with a new healthcare venture. This led to an introduction to Wright.

Where Wallach brings capital and connections, Wright brings scientific legitimacy.

Wright has spent most of his career working for major pharmaceutical companies. While at Novartis, he led the development strategy for drugs such as Ilaris, suggesting the company develop it first as a treatment for less common inflammatory diseases rather than the obvious targets of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. In hindsight, it was a stroke of genius: Novartis shelved plans to market Ilaris in asthma and rheumatoid arthritis after disappointing trials. But Ilaris is now a successful drug with $ 1.1 billion in annual sales.

“He’s kind of a father figure of drug discovery,” said Matt Tremblay, chief operating officer of Calibr and Scripps Research.

Upon their first meeting in Del Mar, Wright was taken by Wallach’s sincerity and impressed by his investments in companies such as Doctor On Demand and Beam. People who know Wright know he likes interesting characters and he appreciates the opportunity to guide someone through scientific dilemmas. And although he was about to retire, the world of adventure had always interested him.

The industry hasn’t seen a couple like Wallach and Wright. Sure, there was a significant age difference between Andrew Schwab and John Diekman when they co-founded 5AM Ventures in 2002, noted Wright’s former colleague, Regulus Therapeutics CEO Jay Hagen. But previously Schwab and Diekman had both worked together in the investment world.

“What’s surprising is how relationship-driven this industry is,” Parker said. Even with his contacts, Wallach said it was difficult to get into investments in health care. He and Wright eventually raised an initial $ 100 million fund from Burkle, venture capitalist Chris Sacca, Wildcat Partner Holdings, and even Wallach’s college roommate.

They’ve already started investing that capital in companies like Neuralink (Elon Musk is a personal friend of Wallach’s). Time BioVentures also pulled a Dutch startup called Kling Biotherapeutics out of bankruptcy, rebuilding the company and starting a new cancer drug trial. It was a natural fit for Wallach and Wright, who according to Tremblay maintained a sense of optimism, despite seeing drugs fail over and over again.

“We thought it sounded fun, exciting and value-added,” Wallach said. “I think there is a model where… the way you make a name for yourself is to beg all the big, historic companies to get you into their business. … Our attitude is the only reason we are in business if we are doing something that other people are not already doing in the market. The nature of investing and risk investing is that if you want to generate better than average returns you have to be contrarian. “

Offerings like the Kling investment are exactly why people like Wright and Wallach should be involved in biotech venture capital, say those who know them.

“It’s so easy not to invest in things, or the few things that fit the magic formula, or have big names behind them,” said Tremblay. “I was just happy, for the ecosystem, to see two people like them working together.”

Rick Berke contributed to the report.

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