Putting millions of dollars into bold new technologies can be a delicate business when lives hang in the balance. But every day some of the sharpest minds in Silicon Valley make big bets on tools and techniques that promise to cure disease, help fix the food system, and even prolong life.
Biotech is one of the hottest sectors for venture-capital funds right now.
In January, startup accelerator Y Combinator announced details of its plan to launch a new biotech track focused on advances in the life sciences. Some of the biggest recent buzz in the sector has centered on new ways of tackling cancer using patients’ own immune systems, fresh therapies built on gene-editing tools like CRISPR, and potentially revolutionary techniques for making meat without factory farming.
“We like to back things that are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before,” said Mohammad Islam, a principal at VC firm DFJ, which recently invested in Memphis Meats — one of the startups aiming to make real meat from animal cells.
In addition to the venture capitalists on this list, Business Insider spoke with entrepreneurs and CEOs to gauge the top young biotech stars. These are the most interesting and ambitious biotech investors, age 40 and under, on the West Coast:
Laura Deming, one of the youngest fund managers in the US, wants to create an antidote to aging.
Title: Founder, Longevity Fund
Laura Deming has defied the limits of age from the time she was 12. That’s when she moved halfway around the world to study under Cynthia Kenyon, a renowned molecular biologist who specializes in the genetics of aging.
Deming began her college education at MIT at age 14. The prodigy dropped out to pursue a career developing antiaging technology through Peter Thiel’s fellowship program.
Now, Deming has founded her own $22 million venture firm, the Longevity Fund, as well as a startup accelerator in an effort to spur entrepreneurs hunting down treatments for aging-related diseases. Among the fund’s investments are Alexo Therapeutics, a startup developing cancer therapies, and Unity Biotechnology, an antiaging drug company.
An engineer by training, Mohammad Islam left a job with the CIA to fund big ideas “unlike anything we’ve seen before.”
Title: Principal, DFJ
Before becoming a principal at the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm DFJ, Mohammad Islam used his background in engineering to work on the technical team of In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s VC arm.
At DFJ, Islam focuses on “frontier technologies” like machine intelligence and biotechnology — arenas where startups would essentially be creating brand-new markets for their goods.
He’s especially excited about companies like Memphis Meats, which aims to get its first cell-based duck and chicken products in restaurants by year’s end, and Zymergen, a robot-powered factory that turns bacteria into new materials.
Blake Byers is an engineer, scientist, and entrepreneur who has been leading investments at Alphabet’s venture arm GV since 2010.
Title: General partner, GV
Blake Byers, the son of famed venture capitalist Brook Byers, started doing biomedical research as a high-school student at Stanford University. His research spanned biomedical engineering, stem cells, Parkinson’s disease modeling, and more, resulting in multiple journal papers and patents.
Byers continued running research projects throughout his academic training and his early years working at GV (formerly Google Ventures).
As an investor, Byers partners with founders of life science and digital health companies — such as Collective Health, a startup offering tech-savvy tools for managing health benefits, and genetics-testing company 23andMe — to create a global health impact.
He also helped incubate a new cell-therapy company, Pact Pharma, which is working on technology that reprograms a cancer patient’s immune system cells to attack the disease. Byers has raised over $125 million for the company while serving as interim CEO. Pact will announce a new CEO later this year.