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Kouki Harasaki | Andreessen Horowitz

Converging technology

“Like most scientists, my lab peers and YES team members got involved with basic research because we wanted to make an impact on the world. We then realised that commercialising translational science is one way to do this. YES began the process of learning about that path.”

Kouki Harasaki
“The mentors gave us a crash course on entrepreneurship and pitching.”
 
 
Kouki Harasaki, was a member of Clairvoyenz, winners of the Biotechnology YES competition in 2003. Back then, glucose meters requiring the user to prick their finger and draw blood on the test strips were the norm for diabetics. Also at the time, the global diabetic demographic was unfortunately booming. This fact, coupled with emerging materials science technologies, led the Clairvoyenz team to develop an idea for a contact lens for diabetics that could bind glucose in tears (correlated to blood glucose levels) and change colours (according to the level of bound glucose) to alert the wearer.

From cell biology to healthcare startup venture capital

Kouki began working in healthcare 20 years ago. His first clinical research position was in the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, an American academic medical centre based in Ohio. Kouki’s first lab research position was at the National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute within the US National Institutes of Health (NIH). One of his personal highlights is being at the NIH when it was announced that the Human Genome Project was completed.

Kouki went on to graduate from Cornell University with a double major in Molecular/Cell Biology and Asian Studies. After Kouki completed his PhD in Clinical Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, he took up a Research Investigator position at Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. After three years at Novartis, Kouki pursued an MBA at Harvard before returning to Novartis to hold positions in strategy, finance, and business development.

In 2014, Kouki left Novartis for Baxter which, at the time, was preparing to spin off its biopharma division into what became Baxalta. When Shire announced that it was buying Baxalta for $32B in 2016, Kouki left to become a Blavatnik Fellow at Harvard Business School. This was a healthcare entrepreneur-in-residence fellowship funded by multi-billionaire Len Blavatnik. As a Blavatnik Fellow, Kouki ran Medal, a medical data machine learning startup as COO for two years.

Kouki joined the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz in early 2018 as a Partner. He now spends his time working with healthcare startups that range from digital health to therapeutics.

Kouki says: “Biotechnology YES played an important part in my career choices. By good fortune, I’ve always been surrounded by innovative biomedical technologies. Competing in and winning the Biotechnology YES competition cemented my decision to pursue an MBA rather than an MD after my PhD.”

Drug discovery impacts

Cardiovascular disease

  • At Novartis, Kouki worked on six drug discovery and development projects in the Cardiovascular and Metabolism Disease Area.

Cancer treatment

  • Kouki played a major role in building Baxalta’s oncology division by leading $5B in oncology drug discovery and development transactions.
  • Kouki’s deals helped get one pancreatic cancer drug called Onivyde to market and a Humira biosimilar to registration.
  • Kouki’s deals also initiated six checkpoint inhibitor programs and six allogeneic CAR-T cell therapies programmes to treat cancers.

More information

Visit  Andreessen Horowitz, Baxter, Cleveland Clinic, National Institutes of Health and Novartis

 

YES was a crash course on entrepreneurship and pitching

Kouki did not have any prior experience in or exposure to the business world. “The mentors gave us a crash course on entrepreneurship and pitching.”

Kouki cites the team’s greatest area for development was also the most nuanced aspect of pitching - story-telling. “The best pitches are great stories that inspire change. They are calls to action. The hardest part was telling a story that balances the practical and the aspirational. In the near-term, we wanted to simply explain the problem and our solution. In the long-term, we wanted to explain how our product could change the world.”

Looking back, Kouki says: “The topics of company formation, pitching, financing, and go-to-market strategy (that were first introduced to us at YES) have repeatedly come up over the course of my career as an R&D scientist, MBA student, business development professional, and startup COO. At Andreessen Horowitz, I use these skills every day as I work with startups.”

The YES idea wasn’t so crazy!

As a post-script, Kouki says it was interesting for the Biotechnology YES team to hear Google announce the Google Contact Lens project in 2014. A team at Google/Verily was focused on developing a smart contact lens for diabetics that could measure glucose in tears in real-time. Instead of using colour-changing materials, Google was developing a contact lens with electronics embedded in the contact lens. “We were very chuffed to see this. It confirmed that our idea was not so crazy, but may have been 11 years too early.”

 

Young Entrepreneurs Scheme

  • Haydn Green Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • Nottingham University Business School
  • Jubilee Campus
  • Nottingham, NG8 1BB