- David Schenkein and Krishna Yeshwant, who lead the life sciences team at GV, formerly Google Ventures, want to upend the costly, time-consuming process of making new drugs.
- They spoke with Business Insider about how they’re approaching the space, which is so stuck in the past that they say any aspect of it is in scope right now.
- They’re not the only ones with this interest. But Schenkein and Yeshwant believe they’re in a unique position because their team combines tech and healthcare expertise.
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David Schenkein and Krishna Yeshwant spend a lot of time talking about the time-consuming, expensive process of testing out new medicines.
That’s a natural interest if you consider their backgrounds. Schenkein and Yeshwant are both physicians and venture capitalists who co-lead the life science investment team at GV, formerly Google Ventures. GV oversees more than $4.5 billion invested in 300 companies.
Revolutionizing how drugs are made has become a hot topic across the healthcare industry. Investors plowed about $1 billion into these types of clinical trials startups in the last five years, Business Insider previously reported.
Schenkein and Yeshwant said they’re in a unique position to make a difference in this area, because their team’s expertise spans the worlds of tech and healthcare. That might mean investing in an existing clinical trials company, or starting an entirely new one.
"There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built in order to start talking about machine learning in clinical trials, in clinical data. And so we’re well down the path of working on companies in that space," Yeshwant told Business Insider this week, speaking from a sleek conference room in Google’s New York City offices.
A process stuck in the past
Clinical trials are a crucial series of steps by which a promising new drug comes to market in the US.
Once a drug company discovers an experimental medication, it then must be tested out in patients with the disease in question, with the whole process typically being run somewhere like an academic institution or hospital.
And yet the way drug research is done "has largely been unchanged in the last several decades," from speed to cost and challenges that come up, Schenkein said. For instance, the way research staff remembers the official procedure for a clinical trial is often "done now with Post-it notes, literally," he said.
He would know. A physician specializing in blood diseases and cancer as well as biopharma industry veteran, Schenkein previously worked as CEO of drugmaker Agios for 10 years.
Yeshwant, also a practicing physician, has been with Google for more than a decade. Years ago, the two met while serving on the board of directors of cancer genomic data company Foundation Medicine; Schenkein joined GV earlier this year. (Foundation Medicine, which had been backed by Google Ventures, is now owned by Swiss drugmaker Roche.)
Because of that archaic system, Schenkein said it’s not clear yet where tech could make the biggest difference. Any part of that process could be a target, from how the research is designed at the front end, to how eligible patients are found and the way results are collected, Schenkein said.
"There’s probably no one single app or approach that’s going to transform the whole thing, he said. "It’s probably going to have to be a series."
In addition to clinical trials, the GV life sciences team is also interested in areas like cancer, neurological conditions, and inflammatory diseases like autoimmune disorders, where tech that’s been used to fend off cancer could also be relevant.
Last year, GV led a $30 million Series C investment round for Verana Health, which makes a tech platform that runs on electronic health data and can be used by doctors and healthcare companies to develop products more quickly.
But the venture capital team has a wider interest in the space. If making drugs can be done as much as ten times cheaper, it could lead to a lot more innovation in areas like heart disorders, Yeshwant said, benefiting GV’s other investments. A common criticism of the drug industry today is that it disproportionately focuses on medicines for lucrative conditions like cancer and rare diseases.
"It’s a hard space insofar as there’s so many things that are so clear need to change. And at the same time, you don’t want to increase cost," plus "at the same time, we need to come up with a way to make a profitable business," he said. "So you know, there’s a lot of different things to balance."
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