SCIENTIST / VENTURE CAPITALIST / ADVENTURER
During Alan’s seven years as president and CEO of University Genetics Inc. he was co-author of several treatises on the companies active in the biotechnology field (public and private), their strategies and relative success and failures (biotechnology Yearbook, Elsevier, 1983, 1985, 1986-1987) which led to his consulting with several venture capital firms. In 1987 he joined one of them (Oxford Partners) on the thesis that “it was better to give money away than go on bloodied hands and knees trying to raise it!”
Alan was probably the first former tenured professor of molecular biology in the V.C. industry, which in 1987 was mainly run by MBAs with little biotechnical understanding. His strategy was to finance new and different university based, cutting edge technologies with strong patent positions and make them the centerpiece of new companies.
Alan has been on the Board of Directors of more than 20 companies and is currently the Senior Partner in a $1 billion plus venture capital fund at Oxford Bioscience Partners.
Some of his biggest successes include:
1) Martek (MATK) founded in 1988. Alan led the initial financing of the company, which discovered that DHA and ARA were vital components of mother’s milk, lacking in baby formula. DHA was shown to aid the development of the brain in premature and newborn infants. Now added to baby formula, DHA and ARA have aided the cognitive development of millions of infants.
2) Gene Finding and Genome Sequencing Genmap, founded in 1989, was the first company to seek functional genes. This led to the subsequent work with Craig Venter and the founding of the Institute for Genome Research (TIGR) and Human Genome Sciences (HGSI) - see “A Life Decoded” J. Craig Venter - Viking 2007.
3) Geron (GERN) founded in 1989. Financed by Michael West and Alan Walton, the story of the search for life extension genes is spelled out in “Merchants of Immortality” Stephen S. Hall, Houghton Mifflin (2003).
4) Exelixis (EXEL) founded in 1995. Co-financed by Stelios Papadopolous, Jean Francois Formela and Alan Walton based on the work by Prof. Artavanis-Tsakonas (Yale), Gerry Rubin and Corey Goodman of Berkeley, EXEL was the first company in the functional genomics field. It showed that the genes in the brain of fruit flies had a similar function to that in humans. Thus, it was one of the first companies to unlock part of the complex circuitry of the brain.
5) Gene Logic (GLGC) found in 1995. Gene Logic was based on an idea by Alan that the molecular basis of disease could be understood by comparing the genes turned on or off in diseased tissue with those in normal tissue. This concept was confirmed by Prof. Weismann at Yale University and was commercialized under the leadership of Dr. Michael Brennan. At its zenith in 2001 the market cap of the company was over $6 billion.
A frequent lecture on the venture capital and Biotech Futurist circuit, Alan was a founder of the National Conference on Biotechnology Ventures held in Redwood Shores/San Francisco from 1987-2002 where many of today’s prominent biotech companies and strategies were first aired.
My best invention – Differential Gene Display.
Sequencing the human genome and unlocking the code of life.