Teamwork, Tenacity and the Value of a “Bet”

“I don’t believe in the concept of the ‘lone genius’ that journalists like to highlight when writing about the success of a company – it’s really the teams that win.”

This year’s 21stAnnual Thomas J. Fogarty, MD, Lecture held at Stanford University, featured Brook Byers, founding partner of Kleiner Perkins. Brook is considered an icon in the industry, having formed the first life sciences-focused practice group in the venture capital profession in the ‘80s and then leading it to become a top-tier venture capital firm in the medical, healthcare and biotechnology sectors. During his tenure, he has helped entrepreneurs build over 120 life sciences and healthcare companies, including Genentech, Foundation Medicine and OptiMedica, among many others.

Brook is not only a luminary in the industry, but an exemplary role model in paying it forward as an active volunteer, mentor, adviser and supporter of Stanford Healthcare, Stanford Biodesign, Stanford University and its ecosystem. He has been influential in helping launch and create other companies, including forming the Byers Eye Institute, which is dedicated to combating blindness and preserving sight. He has also been associated with companies that pioneered the medical use of molecular biology, monoclonal antibodies, personalized medicine, molecular diagnostics, genomics and gene sequencing.

The annual lecture, which was co-sponsored by Stanford Byers Center for Biodesign, the Fogarty Institute and Stanford Surgery, has become a recognized opportunity to learn about best practices and processes of innovation from the most notable innovators in health technology over the last 21 years.

Presenting to an overflow crowd alongside Stanford Biodesign co-director and Fogarty Institute chairman, Tom Krummel, MD, Brook shared insights from his prolific 40-year career working with researchers, physicians, entrepreneurs and engineers to develop new technologies and build companies.

Combining skill sets to create synergy

“It’s important to take a moment to look around at the ecosystem to see how incredibly special it is,” said Brook. “It is a beacon for the rest of the world on how to do ‘interdisciplinary’ right, with engineering, hospitals, research, business and law departments all co-located, collaborating and working as a community.”

Brook cited several programs that have launched out of Stanford as examples of the value of bringing different groups together to develop innovative ideas and create novel technologies.

For example, Stanford Bio-X was created by 300 members of the Stanford ecosystem who signed up as a collective to start a new interdisciplinary biomedical center to catalyze discoveries that will vastly improve human health. The idea was to combine talented faculty and researchers from different departments – at the time, a breakthrough concept, which has since been emulated by other universities and organizations throughout the country.

Another example is Stanford Biodesign, founded by Paul Yock and Josh Makower twenty years ago. They began by connecting academia and the health tech community to deliver meaningful and valuable innovations to patients. Yock and Makower developed a method for need-based health technology innovation called the Biodesign process that is now used by innovation training programs around the world. The success of the program speaks for itself, with more than 2.7 million patients benefiting from technologies developed by its trainees.

Sources of inspiration 

As is common with many prominent leaders in the industry, Brook is a life-long learner who draws inspiration and best practices from experts in business, academia and healthcare. He cited four books that are currently on his reading shelf and inspire him to stay involved in the field:

  • Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs by John Doerr. The goal-setting system of objectives and key results (OKRs) can be applied to anything from business to schools to personal life. This method, which is widely practiced at Kleiner Perkins, helps organizations thrive by measuring what matters.
  • The Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle. Bill spent a lot of time coaching Kleiner Perkins team members and other industry leaders, such as Google, Apple and Intuit. The book emphasizes the importance of “psychological safety,” which allows the team to take risks and thus come up with innovative products.
  • Biodesign: The Process of Innovating Medical Technologies by Paul Yock, Stephanos Zenios, Josh Makower, et. al. The book is used in 40 plus countries globally to teach Stanford Biodesign’s innovative approach to developing breakthrough technologies.
  • Technology Ventures: From Idea to Enterprise by Tom Byers. The book draws on the latest academic research and practitioner insights to help business, engineering, science and professional students learn how to leverage opportunities and build new enterprises.

Bet on making a big impact

In the last section of the fireside chat, Brook shared stories from the “trenches,” highlighting healthcare companies he formed. While each experienced the fluctuations, pivots and challenges faced by most startups today, they ultimately persevered to develop life-changing innovations.

The first case study he shared was Idec Pharmaceuticals, which was initially formed in the late ‘80s when Brook was approached by two clinical researchers from Stanford who were interesting in developing the first therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, a novel concept at the time. Like many startups, the first clinical trial failed, and the board was split between returning the remaining funds to the investors or investing in a different project. Brook was the deciding vote, and he chose to bet on developing a new therapy. The bold move paid off as the company developed a therapy for patients with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had very positive clinical trials results. The startup eventually partnered with Genentech, which provided funding, and today, the company’s prescription medicine, Rituxan, has been used to treat 4.5 million patients globally with lymphoma and other cancers, as well as multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

“Every time I am faced with a choice between returning money to investors or betting on changing the world, I revisit that fateful night of our board meeting with Idec Pharmaceuticals, and I go with making an impact every time,” said Brook.

This approach of failure, persistence and agility – all while focusing on the power of partnerships – has persisted throughout Brook’s career and the many companies in which he has been involved. These include Oculeve, an innovative solution to alleviate dry eye that was purchased by Allergan; OptiMedica, which revolutionized cataract surgery and is now the standard of care; CareDx, a precision medicine solutions company that provides healthcare solutions for transplant patients and now has a $120 million annual run rate; Verana Health, which uses deep data insights to accelerate research and change lives; and the Byers Eye Institute, which currently serves 70,000 patients a year.

On a final note, Brook shared his views on where he sees the future of medicine and the status of venture funding. “As consumers are getting accustomed to doing everything on their phones, companies are bringing their businesses to consumers. Much the same, health tech companies need to bring their solutions to patients so they can track their health more effectively without having to go to the doctor’s office.

The time is ideal to get involved in this sector and be part of this dynamic industry. I have never seen such a burgeoning supply of talented entrepreneurs, ideas and access to capital. So go out, bet big and help make a difference in patients’ lives.”

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