Growing older is not for the faint of heart. As Shakespeare says, “Sans eyes, sans teeth, sans taste, sans everything”. But does it have to be this way?
One nearly universal side effect of age is the formation of cloudy cataracts. It can get so bad that patients need surgery to maintain their vision. Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in the world as many communities can’t afford the required surgery. What happens is that the tightly ordered proteins in the lens of the eye lose their shape and become opaque tangles. Leah Makley, a former graduate student in UCSF professor Jason Gestwicki’s lab, questioned whether it was possible to find small molecules that restore the lens’ proteins to their original shape. Leah developed a remarkably sensitive assay to screen for molecules with this ability, and sure enough, she found one.
Leah and Jason created a startup, ViewPoint, to turn this promising discovery into a product that could help patients maintain normal vision without surgery. Powered by angel financing, Leah and her first hire moved into MBC BioLabs to validate and formulate the lead into a promising development candidate. Eighteen months later, they had demonstrated the activity in a number of systems, and proved their mettle as entrepreneurs. Mission Bay Capital led their Series A financing, which allowed them to validate their program using aged beagles with cataracts – and the treatment worked. This was just the data that the investment community needed to see – in February 2018, ViewPoint closed a $35 million B round led by TPG and Novo Ventures.
Creating a biotech company is incredibly challenging and expensive. MBC BioLabs’ goal is to keep the cost of starting a biotech company so low that entrepreneurs can be a startup founder or CEO. Our admissions process is highly competitive (we only accept 10% to 20% of our applicants) but our acceptance criteria is different than the traditional approach to approvals. We focus on two things:
- Great people – world experts in their subject matter.
- A company devoted to solving a big problem.
We look for entrepreneurs like Leah Makley and we’re thrilled to have been able to give her the chance to prove herself. Leah is one of the most poised, focused, and effective entrepreneurs I have had the pleasure of working with. And despite her youth and lack of biotech leadership experience, she has proven to her investors and her board that she is the best person for the job.
ViewPoint is why we do what we do: An entrepreneurial scientist with a dream creates a tiny biotech company that goes on to do great things.