Billion-Dollar Exits, and the CEOs That Made Them Happen

San Diego is well recognized for its prowess in early-stage biotech research. But increasingly, it’s also becoming known for cultivating breakthrough companies that are purchased for billions of dollars by global pharmaceutical companies.

On Oct. 28, CanaleComm President and Founder Carin Canale-Theakston moderated a panel she assembled on behalf of the San Diego Venture Group featuring Faheem Hasnain and Pratik Shah, Ph.D.

Hasnain was president and CEO of Receptos, which focused on immunology and metabolic disorders. Celgene completed its $7.2 billion takeover of the company in late August.

Shah served as president and CEO of Auspex Pharmaceuticals, a movement disorders company acquired in May by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. The deal was valued at roughly $3.2 billion.

The event drew a packed auditorium of attendees at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS, in Torrey Pines, providing inspiring takeaways for any life science CEO or entrepreneur seeking to make it big. Among some of the top quotes of the evening:

  • “It’s like peeing in your wetsuit.” In meetings with potential investors, it’s tempting to promise more than your company can deliver. But while it might feel good for a minute, overstating your capabilities or expected milestones will haunt you later, Hasnain said. It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver: “Sandbag, sandbag, sandbag,” he said.
  • “We did what we did for the patients and their families.” In a society that values body language, patients with movement disorders such as Huntington’s disease are at an extreme disadvantage. When going got tough at Auspex, the team kept in mind the patients they were helping, Dr. Shah said. It was motivation that paid off in the end—and is one big reason that successful biotech entrepreneurs keep returning to the game, even when they don’t need the money.
  • “Don’t ever consider an acquisition as a business strategy.” Your strategy always should be to build a strong and successful company based on solid science, said Hasnain. If a buyout occurs, that’s great. But the exit itself shouldn’t be your strategy.

Both Hasnain and Shah said they are enjoying taking time off to consider their next ventures. But it likely won’t be long until they’re back on the biotech scene in San Diego; Hasnain said he and his core team from Receptos are planning to launch a new venture in 2016.