December 15, 2017

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Meet One the Most Successful German Biotech Leaders Ever

Patrick Baeuerle is the German biotech leader I wanted to interview the most (besides Simon Moroney from MorphoSys, who came to our Meetup in Munich last week). Patrick has explored and succeeded in just about every area of life sciences, be it as a highly cited academic researcher, a professor at Freiburg University, head of drug discovery in biotech startups Tularik and Micromet, a vice president at Amgen, the world’s largest biotech company, and now as a managing partner of venture capital firm MPM. He shared his story and wisdom with me in this interview.

Patrick Baeuerle started his career in academia and was already called at the age of 34 as a professor and chairman at Freiburg University. He then swiftly figured out that academia wasn’t where he could have the biggest impact and decided to transition to industry by joining Tularik, a small biotech start-up in South San Francisco. He learned from scratch how to build a biotech company, and how to discover drugs from biotech industry giants like David Goedell and Bob Swanson.

In 1998, he joined Micromet as CSO and helped bring the first bispecific antibody to the market in 2014, preceded by a €1.16 billion acquisition of Micromet by Amgen in 2012.

Since two years, he now is Managing Partner at MPM Capital, a US-based venture capital firm with an investment strategy focused on therapeutics. He still lives in Munich but spends much of his time in the US, mostly in Boston and San Francisco.

You joined Micromet in 1998 as CSO. What made you move from the States into the German biotech industry?

I had a great offer from Micromet which made it easy for me to move back from California. It was also good timing because finally venture capital was injected into Germany’s evolving biotech industry, and made it possible to start companies like Morphosys, Medigene or GPC.

One of my missions as CSO was to transform Micromet from a cancer diagnostic into a therapeutics company. To this end, we tried to in-license two monoclonal antibodies from Centocor, an opportunity that however evaporated when the company got acquired by Johnson & Johnson. What looked like a disaster in the first place, created the opportunity to develop a bispecific T cell-engaging antibody that was in-licensed from inventors at Munich’s LMU.

This antibody ultimately became Blincyto, the first bispecific antibodies ever approved by the FDA. The antibody and its underlying BiTE technology also became the basis for the acquisition of Micromet by Amgen, the largest of a biotech company in Germany to date.

What are your three most important takeaways from the Micromet experience?

Three come to my mind:

You have to build the company on good science. We made a real big effort when it came to understanding the biology and therapeutic potential behind our T cell-engaging antibodies. This deep knowledge also helped with Blincyto’s speedy approval by the FDA within only 3 months , the fastest ever by the US authority.

Thorough financing is as important as good science. Our listing on Nasdaq in 2006 opened the coffers from Wall Street, from where we received a lot of money. Initially, venture capital was absolutely critical as raised from top-notch investors like Atlas, 3i, HBM, the Wellcome Trust, Abingworth, Schroder Ventures, or Omega. Likewise, Micromet’s many development collaborations with large pharma partners helped to finance and sustain its large R&D organization.

You have to be incredibly resilient and overcome many challenges — in Micromet’s case, these were difficult refinancing situations, unforeseen side effects in clinical trials, issues with manufacturing, or trying to convince pharma partners of the way we administer our drug.

What made you join VC firm MPM Capital as Managing Partner?

Essentially, I am working as an “entrepreneur in residence”. MPM allows me to focus on doing what I love most and perhaps can do best, which is building from scratch companies that develop breakthrough cancer therapies. I have already co-founded at MPM a number of new biotech companies in the immuno-oncology space, including TCR2, iOmx, and Maverick, and a few more that are still in stealth mode. Apart from that, I am continuously helping to evaluate new financing opportunities for MPM’s large funds.

MPM seems to invest large amounts from the very beginning, such as the €40M Series A in iOmx. This is more usual in the US than in Europe — What’s behind this strategy?

The reason is that we want management to stay focused on reaching clinical proof of concept, which marks the largest value inflection during the development of a cancer drug. The first 2-3 years are most critical for startups to establish their technologies and identify and develop lead candidates. With multiple small financing rounds, management gets overly distracted from these key goals by raising new money all the time.

Do you think Germany is a good place to inv