The 10 Hottest Bay Area Biotech Startups

The 10 Hottest Bay Area Biotech Startups
September 18, 2015
By Renee Morad, Breaking News Staff

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been regarded as an epicenter of technology and a leading biotech cluster, but now, the tech and biotech sectors are, literally, beginning to collide.

For starters, more collaboration between tech and biotech is taking hold. Envision, for example, scientists marrying biological data with complex algorithms to better diagnose and treat diseases.

Office space and building expansions are also pushing the two sectors closer together, with more tech companies eyeing South San Francisco, which has long been regarded as the birthplace of commercial biotech, as a place to set up shop.

In Silicon Valley, where companies like Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Uber made their rise to fame, biotech firms are now edging in on the competition. Silicon Valley’s biotech accelerator IndieBio, for example, which is backed by SOS Ventures, is showing great promise. The accelerator is providing biotech startups with $250,000 in funding, as well as lab space and mentors, such as 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey and Human Genome Project founder George Church. The leaders behind the accelerator are confident that they’re helping to shape the next billion-dollar biotech innovation and solve intractable problems using biology.

Overall, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley areas ranked the No. 1 metropolitan region for biotech funding in the second quarter of 2015, followed by Boston, Seattle, New York and Philadelphia, respectively, according to The MoneyTree Report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.

The trend is only moving up. San Francisco Bay Area biotech firms raised $926 million in the second quarter of 2015, compared to $573.9 million in the first quarter of this year, according to The MoneyTree Report.

“The appetite is there,” Tom Ciccolella, who leads the U.S. venture capital practice at PwC, told Mercury News. “It’s not software all day and all night. Biotech has a home (in Silicon Valley) and I think that’s proving out.”

To provide a glimpse of what’s to come for biotech startups in the Bay Area, we take a look at the hottest biotech startups—all of which were founded in 2012 or later—that attracted the greatest amount of funding in the second quarter of 2015, based on the MoneyTree Report. Here are some startups worth keeping on your radar:

Bay Area Biotech Startups Q2 2015


Denali Therapeutics
South San Francisco
$217 million
Ryan Watts
South San Francisco
$46 million
Tassos Gianakakos
$44 million
Joshua Hoffman
Twist Bioscience
San Francisco
$37 million
Emily Leproust
True North Therapeutics
South San Francisco
$35 million
Nancy Stagliano
Kezar Life Sciences
South San Francisco
$23 million
John Fowler
Alexo Therapeutics
South San Francisco
$18 million
Jaume Pons
Corvus Pharmaceuticals
$17 million
Richard Miller
Amphivena Therapeutics
San Francisco
$9.7 million
Jeanmarie Guenot
Unchained Labs
$6 million
Tim Harkness

1. Denali Therapeutics Inc.
Based in South San Francisco, Denali, dedicated to defeating neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and ALS, through therapeutic discovery and development, raised $217 million in its Series A round. The company launched in May 2015. The company’s Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Ryan Watts, previously served as director of the Department of Neuroscience at Genentech.

2. MyoKardia Inc.
Founded in 2012, MyoKardia has set out to pioneer a precision medicine approach to genetic heart diseases by developing targeted therapies. The company, based in South San Francisco, raised $46 million in the second quarter of 2015. Chief Executive Officer Tassos Gianakakos joined MyoKardia in 2013, after serving as senior vice president for MAP Pharmaceuticals, acquired by Allergan in March 2013.

3. Zymergen Inc.
Zymergen, based in Emeryville, focuses on designing and creating microbial strains. The biotech company, founded in 2013, raised more than $44 million in its first round. Chief Executive Officer Joshua Hoffman was a partner at Norcob Capital prior to Zymergen.

4. Twist Bioscience Corp.
Founded in 2013, San Francisco-based Twist Bioscience raised almost $37 million in the second quarter of this year. The company provides DNA production and drug development. Chief Executive Officer Emily Leproust is an early pioneer in long DNA synthesis. Prior to Twist Bioscience, Emily was director of applications and chemistry R&D—genomics at Agilent Technologies.

5. True North Therapeutics Inc.
True North Therapeutics, based in South San Francisco, raised $35 million in the second quarter of 2015. Founded in 2013, the company develops therapies that inhibit the complement system to treat rare disease. Chief Executive Officer Nancy Stagliano was previously CEO of iPierian Inc., which focused on neurodegenerative diseases.

6. Kezar Life Sciences
South San Francisco-based Kezar Life Sciences, founded in 2015, is focused on the discovery and development of drugs targeting protein homeostasis for autoimmune disorders. It attracted $23 million in Series A financing in the second quarter of 2015. The company’s chief executive officer and co-founder is John Fowler.

7. Alexo Therapeutics Ltd.
Alexo Therapeutics, dedicated to developing new protein-based therapeutics to improve human health, raised $18 million in the second quarter of 2015. The South San Francisco-based company, founded in 2015, is lead by Chief Executive Officer Jaume Pons, who is the inventor of three antibodies in late-stage development and is the previous senior vice president R&D for Pfizer.

8. Corvus Pharmaceuticals Inc.
Corvus Pharmaceuticals, founded in 2014, raised nearly $17 million in the second quarter of this year. Based in Burlingame, Calif., Corvus Pharmaceuticals is a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the development of novel agents that target the immune system to treat patients with cancer. Chief Executive Officer Richard Miller was previously vice president and director of IDEC (now Biogen, BIIB), where he led research efforts on lymphoma culminating in the development of Rituxan.

9. Amphivena Therapeutics Inc.
Founded in 2012, this San Francisco-based company raised $9.7 million in the second quarter of 2015. Amphivena Therapeutics aims to eradicate blood cancers with a breakthrough therapy that harnesses the patient’s own immune system to destroy tumor cells and their precursors. Chief Executive Officer Jeanmarie Guenot previously founded, built and ran SKS Ocular, a start-up ophthalmic company incubator, focused on dry AMD, sustained release ocular drug delivery technologies and therapeutics for glaucoma, macular degeneration and ocular inflammation.

10. Unchained Labs Inc.
Unchained Labs, founded in 2014, is a Pleasanton, Calif.-based cool biologics tools company, which raised $6 million in the second quarter of 2015. Chief Executive Officer and Founder Tim Harkness was previously CEO of ProteinSimple, where he and his team built a unique protein analysis pure-play from scratch.

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