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May 18, 2022

Panel: Despite ‘pruning’ during downturn, expect continued bioscience growth

PHOTO | Liese Klein Marian Nakada, vice president of venture investments at JJDC, Johnson & Johnson’s corporate venture group, speaks at the Yale Innovation Summit on May 18, 2022.

With global markets continuing to slide, expect valuations to shrink and capital raises to get more difficult for the New Haven area’s bioscience companies, a panel of experts said Wednesday at the Yale Innovation Summit.

“It's a little bit of a rude awakening,” said Christine Brennan, managing director of Vertex Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm with roots in Singapore. “I think for some CEOs who have lived in this unbelievably fast-paced, ever-increasing-valuation time… it’s been interesting trying to educate them.”

Companies that have gone public in recent years are seeing their valuations drop and are struggling to raise funds for ongoing growth, said Marian Nakada, vice president of venture investments at JJDC, Johnson & Johnson’s corporate venture group.

“We’re going to see a number of companies shutting down,” Nakada said. But smaller, seed-stage companies are actually in a good position in the current market, Nakada added, because of the billions floating around in “dry powder,” or funds seeking new investments. 

“We are strategic first and financial second,” Nakada said of her company’s investments. “So we don’t necessarily track with the market.” 

Citing the statistic that almost $30 billion has been raised for bioscience companies in recent years, KKR Principal Allyson Rinderle emphasized that venture funding is out there for startups even as mid-stage companies “hunker down.” 

PHOTO | Liese Klein
The "Trends in BioTech Investing" panel at the the Yale Innovation Summit at the Omni New Haven Hotel in New Haven on May 18, 2022.

Private companies are postponing new financing rounds and looking to insiders to fund growth in the current environment, Rinderle said. “It’s uncertain – everyone’s trying to figure out where the market is going and how it’s looking, but it’s certainly a change.”

Mid-stage companies should think about becoming more realistic in their valuations and more efficient with their existing capital, Brennan said. “You’re going to have to make some tough decisions. So you might not be able to do 10 programs, you might be able to do three.”

The downturn is also prompting some long-overdue reckonings with bad investments, Nakada added. 

“People were just throwing money into these rounds because they thought this is the place to put money… and a lot of these programs were failing,” Nakada said. “It’s pruning things so that they’re more healthy.”

As for the future of bioscience innovation, the panelists named fields including digital health, regenerative medicine and the scientific applications of computer modeling and artificial intelligence.

“The field of oncology is really booming right now,” said Carine Boustany, site head for research at Ridgefield-based Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. The pharma giant is also investing heavily in regenerative medicine and the use of AI in drug discovery and development. 

“I’m really hoping that some of those predictive modeling models that we’re seeing come through are going to help us accelerate the path for drug development,” Boustany said. 

Innovations in neuroscience are also of interest to major funders, Nakada said, along with breakthroughs in autologous cell therapy, in which a patient’s own cells are used to create treatments like individualized cancer therapies. Funders are looking for companies that can grow these cells in vivo for more efficient and cost-effective treatments.

“Those are areas that have been of great interest for us,” Nakada said. 

More than 1,400 people registered for this year’s Yale Innovation Summit, the first in-person event in three years. A dozen startups were slated to pitch Wednesday along with panels on health and engineering innovation.  

Wednesday’s session launched with a keynote speech by former Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, who credited her decision to live in Connecticut with her rise to the top job at the Fortune 50 company. The state allowed her to balance family life and business, she said, and continues to provide a strong backdrop to growing companies.

“I look at Connecticut and say ‘here is a state which wants to build an entrepreneurial system,’” Nooyi said. “We have the talent to support innovation. We have the supporting systems, we have a government that wants to work with you, a government led by technocrats. And there's an environment of innovation… where existing companies want to work with entrepreneurs to help you scale your businesses.”

Contact Liese Klein at

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