Translational Accelerator looks to invest in Arizona bioscience companies
By Don Weiner
Providing funds is one thing. Lending a hand may mean something else. But select companies can expect both from the Translational Accelerator LLC, a new $20 million Arizona-based venture capital group that has set its sights on assisting early-stage bioscience companies already located in the state or planning to move here.
“We will make an investment, we will keep what we call ‘dry powder’ to enable us to do follow-on investments with that same company a
nd we are committed to the companies that we invest in to assist them from a management perspective as well,” says Eric Tooker, president and CEO of MCS Biotech Resources in Scottsdale and one of four managers for the TRAC fund. “We want to be active managers because of our expertise.”
TRAC is targeting companies involved in cancer and neuroscience diagnostics, services, prevention and treatment. There’s enough funding available, according to Tooker, to initially assist about six or seven companies with investments ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million. The idea is to help these firms during their pre-clinical or early clinical stages.
There may be some flexibility in terms of which stage of development a company has reached, but there’s none in terms of where the company is located.
Love points out that Arizona has done a good job supporting bioscience research at institutions such as TGen and at state universities.
“It’s clear that funding has led to discoveries and those discoveries can be commercialized,” Love says. “But if you don’t have local venture capital here, particularly for the early-stage discoveries, the discoveries will be taken out of state and go to San Diego or San Francisco or elsewhere.
“So it’s real clear we had a big need for local venture capital here. … That’s what stimulated all of us to do this.”
Tooker agrees and adds: “The idea for TRAC really was born out of a desire to keep those companies here and raise a fund that was Arizona-only, biotech-only to help the biotech infrastructure here.”
The first business to receive TRAC funding is Silamed Inc., a Scottsdale biopharmaceutical company that is developing ways to enhance new or existing drugs through the use of silicon. It is also an example of a company that has received more than a check from TRAC. Both Love and Von Hoff serve as Silamed advisors.
Silamed CEO Craig Taylor and Stephen Gately, the company’s founder and chief scientific officer, have come to rely on Von Hoff for his expertise in oncology therapeutics and on Love for his business acumen. Their counsel, according to Taylor, has been invaluable.
“They’re really trying to take us by the hand here a bit and help us along,” Taylor says. “And while I have experience doing this on the investment side, having people in there with us is very valuable.”
Other venture-capital firms looking at Silamed often seek Love’s input on the investment opportunity and Von Hoff’s thoughts on the company’s technology.
“Those are perspectives that they provide to would-be investors that, because of their position (and) because of their experience, is very valuable to us,” Taylor says.
There are several priorities TRAC managers consider when evaluating potential investments. One is strong management.
“Many times, especially in drug development, the technology can always be improved but management talent is something that is either there or is not there,” Tooker says.
A novel and promising technology is a second criterion. And, finally, TRAC managers want to know there is a market for a company’s technology, one that warrants an investment and indicates the potential for profit.
“We’re looking at probably a four- to six-year time horizon from the time we invest to the time that there’s an exit,” Tooker says. “Our preferred exit strategy and our likely exit strategy will be a purchase of the companies that we invest in by big pharma or even, really, medium-sized pharma.”
When that happens, the return can be substantial.
“Our expectation is that, yeah, there will be ‘gold in them thar hills,’ ” Love says. “From what we’ve seen, I think there’s a good probability of that.
“I think it’s very important for our fund to make money for investors because part of the problem in Arizona is that high net worth people who invest in this industry have no experience investing in it. So it’s important that those who are investing have a good experience and they’ll bring more in. That’s how venture capital in biotech in the Bay Area, for example, took off.”
Elements of Taste
elements at the Sanctuary delights guests with its fresh, local ingredients
By Noelle Coyle
Set scene: A wood-paneled ceiling, hues of gray, black
and white, and wall-to-wall windows
offering views of Mummy Mountain, Piestewa Peak and the praying monk at Camelback Mountain. Asian accents can be found throughout — each table is adorned with a bamboo arrangement and a little Yin and Yang dish containing salt and pepper; paper lanterns hang overhead; and modern Japanese screens separate the dining area from wait staff. It’s just enough to get the point across without being overwhelming. This is the just the beginning of what guests will experience at elements, a restaurant concept at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain.
I must admit, our party was looking forward to the evening. As would anyone familiar with the background of Executive Chef Beau MacMillan. The Massachusetts native has an impressive background in the culinary industry, and in recent years he has put elements in the national spotlight with appearances on NBC’s “Today” and The Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.” In fact, MacMillan battled against Iron Chef Bobby Flay to see who had the best American Kobe beef, and MacMillan came out on top with his critically acclaimed short ribs.
For our salads, we chose contrasting flavors — the organic spinach and frisee salad, served with Mandarin oranges, beets and pistachios for a sweet indulgence, and the more tangy farmer’s market, served with cucumber, carrots, daikon radish and soy vinaigrette.
While the entree menu (which changes seasonally) is a diverse selection of enticing meals, once I discovered they were serving MacMillan’s braised beef short ribs, I looked no further. I was curious to find out how award-winning short ribs would taste, and I was not disappointed. They were juicy and tender, so tender that the knife by my plate wasn’t necessary. Served with skillet roasted vegetables and grits (one of my all-time favorite foods), they were the crowd favorite at our table. The other winner of the evening was the bacon-wrapped filet of beef, served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, balsamic onions, mushrooms and blue cheese.
My favorite part of any meal, the dessert, was just as satisfying. If you order the chocolate peanut butter decadence, it’s best to share it with someone, due to its overwhelmingly rich ingredients. On the other hand, if you like having the dessert all to yourself, try the passion fruit cheesecake. Served with fresh strawberries, mango and a strawberry sorbet, its light textures and sweet flavor are the perfect way to end the evening.