From the biotech bench to business development
Anil Goyal, chief business officer at OpenDoors Group, helps early-stage, private and public life sciences companies design and execute strategic business development and marketing plans. Find out how this scientist's move from the bench to the "dark side" of business development has allowed him to grow biotechnology companies that are developing innovative therapies, technologies and discovery platforms.
Q & A
Tell us a little bit of your background.
I am trained as a scientist who moved to the “dark side” of biotech entrepreneurship early in my career. After completing my Ph.D. and two post-docs, I started my career in the biotech industry. My first job was managing a research team sequencing the human genome project at Genome Therapeutics Corporation (GTC), in Waltham, MA. Within a year of being at GTC, I got exposure to the business development/deal-making function and its role in building companies. So, with my passion for science and applying it to business, I approached the management team at GTC and shared my desire to contribute my scientific background to the business development team. After a few interactions with management, I got the opportunity to move from “bench” to the “dark side.” Since then, over the last 23-plus years I have worked at several private and public biotechnology companies. I have led company formation, fundraising from venture capital and corporate venture, public markets, business development, strategic planning, deal making, licensing and mergers/acquisitions for companies across multiple disease areas, especially oncology/immuno-oncology.
Some of the companies I’ve been part of are: Millennium Pharmaceuticals (acq. by Takeda), Serenex (acq. by Pfizer), Optherion, Qualiber, Heat Biologics, MimiVax, Ribometrix and Symberix.
I currently have a consulting practice, OpenDoors Group, that helps founders and senior management of biotechnology companies to grow and develop their vision into companies with platforms and therapeutics.
How did you become involved with UNC?
In early 2010, I had just completed the sale of the diagnostic division of Optherion, a venture-backed company, and was looking for new opportunities. I happened to meet Jackie Quay of the UNC Office of Technology Commercialization at our kids’ elementary school event in Chapel Hill. Jackie and I had known each other before, and I had presented a story at the OTC Innovation Seminar about another company Serenex that I sold to Pfizer. She asked what I was doing next, and I mentioned I was looking for innovative ideas/faculty that I could start a company with. After just a short discussion of my interests, she mentioned Professor Leaf Huang in the Eshelman School of Pharmacy. That led me to meeting Professor Huang and starting my first UNC company Qualiber, Inc in July 2010. Since then, I have been involved in many UNC startups.
Ribometrix looks to be a promising spinout. You made some key connections that led to their recent financing?
Yes, Ribometrix is one the most exciting platforms that enables discovery of small molecules against RNA targets in many disease pathways that are untapped with traditional drug discovery. Fundraising for a startup company is a contact sport with a great team and exquisite timing. Professor Kevin Weeks and Dr. Katie Warner, founders of the company in 2016, had started discussions with some pharma companies and had approached a few venture capital firms. I worked with the founders to refine the pitch/story and engage a boarder group of venture capital firms using my network and interaction with the venture capital community. After a roadshow trip to Boston, we were able to attract interest from several larger VC firms, which led to the $7.5 million recent financing.
Overall, how have you found the UNC startup support ecosystem?
The UNC startup support ecosystem has been instrumental for all the companies I’ve worked with. With Qualiber, we had tremendous support from Jackie at UNC OTC who worked to secure initial funding from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center. Don Rose at KickStart Venture Services made connections and provided funding for the business plan. And most critically, the encouragement and guidance from Dr. Dhiren Thakker at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy helped establish lab space at Kerr Hall and got the company started. That led to securing $1.5 million in funding to progress the UNC technology. I could name many other folks, both on the scientific side as well as in administrative roles, including great admins that work as cogs of the wheel to move a company forward. I have seen a few other university systems, and though I have not been as close to them, I think UNC is one of the most supportive public universities that encourages entrepreneurship.
What do you do when you are not helping UNC startups?
Play soccer with my dog, run, bike, cook, board games with family and search for the hottest sauce on Earth, all while still shuttling my son’s robotics team. And then if time is left, I’m helping other companies outside UNC, such as the Nordic companies that Professor Ted Zoller brings to the RTP under the Nordic mentor network for entrepreneurship program.
Any best advice for other startups looking to turn their ideas into reality?
It’s tough to share one piece of advice needed to turn an idea into reality. There are many facets that are essential. Startup founders should think big…but focus and accomplish key milestones/successes by taking small steps that de-risk and show feasibility of their ideas. Founders should access great advisors and super connectors on all aspects, including technical, operational, business development and fundraising. Since it takes a village! Lastly, having urgency to push through the challenges and make critical decisions rapidly are key to translating ideas into products.