MPM's Challenge: Investing the Largest Health Venture Fund
This article was originally published in Start Up
MPM has raised a $900 million fund. What's it going to spend it on in these troubled times, when valuations across all sectors of the life sciences industry are slipping? MPM plans to direct two-thirds of the fund to product and technology companies, and a third to applied platform firms. The fund will aim for an 80/20 between pharmaceuticals and devices. MPM is particularly keen to find quality-of-life investments for its portfolio. In the pharma sector, MPM may at times take a stripped-down approach to building companies, but it will also do some buy-outs and generally be prepared to invest more and support start-ups longer than VCs did historically.
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VCs worried about depressed financial markets and demanding Big Pharma customers are being tough on almost all start-ups seeking funding-but no tougher than on their existing portfolio companies. For some, hard times are creating opportunities. The circumstances of companies that raised money in the past few years are impacting newer firms now. Even organizations that met their milestones have seen valuations plummet, and are struggling to get financing. The down market is making it more desirable and easier for VCs to invest in late-stage start-ups. In-licensing has been popular, but investors are increasingly seeking value-priced components to fill out existing firms or launch new ones. Investors haven't stopped doing early-stage deals, but they're looking for firms with advantages that can reduce risk or cost, or speed a company to market. Drugmakers that used to sign big-money deals are now demanding that start-ups prove their technologies' merits through short-term, inexpensive pilot programs. Some firms aren't so pressed by hard times. VCs are promising stellar founders lots of support and time to take big risks they bet will pay off handsomely.
Aging Baby Boomers with the desire and financial means to do so are taking health care to the next level, seeking fixes for bodily conditions that aren't life-threatening but which do affect comfort and self esteem. Lately device makers have begun heading for the sorts of lifestyle markets pioneered by drugmakers. Given the choice, some investors believe consumers will prefer device solutions over daily pill-popping that reminds them they've got health problems. Some firms are adopting established technologies to new purposes, while others are identifying perceived market needs first, then seeking out technology that can do the job. Opportunities range from aesthetic procedures to treatments for obesity and depression. Lifestyle start-ups face strategic issues that are anything but traditional: How and when to reach out to potential patients and prepare physicians to answer their questions? How to justify reimbursement or convince consumers to pay out of pocket? New challenges are sparking new marketing tactics, such as showing physicians in the distribution channel how to distinguish themselves with new devices.
It is a world, at least the US corner of it, in which any common understanding of drug value is confused by opposing incentives – to opacity and transparency, to looking at benefit broadly or narrowly, long-term or short-term: value, in short, to whom?