Stefan Larson has seen all sides of the biotech space. In the lab throughout his Masters and PhD studies, Larson moved to the business end as the CEO of several biotech startups including Northern Biologics, a biotech company developing cancer therapeutics, and is now, as a Venture Partner and Advisor at Versant Ventures, a leading healthcare investment firm.
Yet throughout all of these career changes, there is one thing he hasn’t forgotten: “For us in the world of biotech, we wouldn’t exist without basic research.”
Versant Ventures made headlines in December 2016 when they announced a $225 million USD deal with Bayer AG to launch BlueRock Therapeutics, a next-generation regenerative medicine company focused on breakthrough stem cell technology treatments. The investment is one of the largest series A financing rounds in history for a biotech company.
But before the press releases and the fanfare, there was hard work. The technology behind BlueRock Therapeutics was developed over years in the labs of University of Toronto Professors Gordon Keller and Michael Laflamme.
Biotechnology tries to find ways to harness complex biology to ultimately improve industrial processes and cure disease. But you can’t harness what you don’t understand.
“There are so many fundamental unanswered questions in human disease, that without basic research, we can’t even begin to think about developing drugs for these diseases,” explains Larson.
Larson sees government-funded academic research as being part of the “fertile landscape” that a country must create in order to spur innovation and help businesses thrive.
“We need scientists out there taking the risks, exploring areas of biology,” says Larson. “That’s really what feeds our engine of ultimately creating companies that will someday bring a drug to market.”