As the year winds down, STAT reporters are taking a look at the stories they’re most eager to track in 2016. We’ll be running these daily through Dec. 31. Look for more New Year’s predictions here.
Silicon Valley is already the center of venture capital funding for the life sciences with nearly $4 billion invested in 2015 alone. That eclipses the combined total from the five most active venture-funding states in the nation after California, according to the California Life Sciences Association.
Add Stanford University’s medical school, the global buzz from Google’s advanced diagnostics spinoff Verily, and new titans in life sciences philanthropy — including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, with their pledge to donate $45 billion — and the Valley is poised to become a stronger center of gravity in all things bio and medicine in 2016. Here are three key players who personify that influence:
Elizabeth Holmes, chief executive of Theranos
Few companies have captured more hope and generated more hype than Palo Alto-based Theranos, led by Holmes and backed by top names in venture capital, as well as statesmen such as Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz. Theranos says it will revolutionize medical testing with an array of fast, accurate lab results that need just a few drops of blood from the prick of the finger — at a fraction of the cost of conventional tests.
The company had been anointed as the greatest bio success story in years — and valued at $9 billion — until an October Wall Street Journal investigation called into question its technologies and operations. Now Holmes is scrambling to prove herself and her company’s technology anew to the Food and Drug Administration, the public, and investors. Her success or failure is sure to be one of Silicon Valley’s biggest dramas in the coming year.
Sean Parker, life science philanthropist
Facebook’s founding president and a billionaire, Parker (portrayed by Justin Timberlake in the movie “The Social Network”) recently burst into the life sciences world by committing $600 million to his personal foundation — much of it earmarked for medical research.
Coming from an industry that prides itself on “disruption,” Parker aims to shake up philanthropy with a willingness to make big bets — even if they sometimes fail spectacularly — in the pursuit of “catalytic impact.” So far, he’s underwritten Stanford’s new allergy research center (Parker is a severe allergy sufferer) and a University of California, San Francisco lab studying autoimmune diseases.
Parker has also become one of the biggest proponents and financial supporters for the proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana in California — likely to face voters in November 2016.
Halle Tecco, a founder and managing director of Rock Health
This venture seed capital firm is the first focused exclusively on digital health startups — which apply technology to health care — and remains the most active, doing 13 deals last year alone. Venture funding of digital health hit $4.3 billion in 2015, compared with $1.1 billion in 2011, according to Rock Health.
Tecco, whose pedigree includes a Harvard MBA and work in Apple’s health and medical section, calls herself a “matchmaker” for health care entrepreneurs. Rock Health and Tecco’s closely watched picks include Reify, a Boston-based firm that makes it easier to conduct clinical trials with mobile technology and biosensors that collect patient data; and Doctor on Demand, a San Francisco company that offers video visits with physicians and psychologists via smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.