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What’s Militia Hill Ventures’ take on biotech, cancer therapy investment? (Q&A)

Jane Holmes Hollingsworth is a Philadelphia-based serial healthcare entrepreneur with a couple of successful exits under her belt. Teva Pharmaceuticals snapped up migraine pain patch business NuPathe for $114 million and drug developer Auxilium was sold to Endo Pharmaceuticals in a deal valued at $2.6 billion. Since then she has shifted her focus to biotech investment as cofounder and managing partner of Militia Hill Ventures with Joan Lau. Together they hope to create a self-sustaining entrepreneurial ecosystem in the City of Brotherly Love.

Hollingsworth will be a speaker at the upcoming MedCity CONVERGE conference in Philadelphia, July 31 to August 1. She’ll take part in a panel on the novel technologies that mark the next frontier in the battle against cancer. Hollingsworth shared her experience as an entrepreneur and investor in response to emailed questions.

This exchange has been lightly edited.

What informs your investment strategy for Militia Ventures?

At Militia Hill Ventures, we build biotech companies from the ground up, bringing the team, the capital, and the assets together. We look at investments that have transformative potential for patients and that represent the best new science that also has a path for ultimately reaching patients.

What are some of the cancer therapies that interest your firm?

For cancer therapies and beyond, we look for technologies that have a platform potential as well as product potential. For example, one of our portfolio companies, Tcera, is a cancer cell therapy company, which is obviously a young field. For a new area like this, there are challenges combined with a lot of ground-breaking science, and we believe it has a great future.

Even after investors like you separate the hype from the compelling businesses, does the question of which cancer therapies are likely to be reimbursement play a big role in deciding which companies to invest in?

We certainly believe reimbursement is a critical factor. For example, we have a gene therapy company, Tallee Bio, which is developing a gene therapy approach for cystic fibrosis. At this point, the gene therapy reimbursement model is unknown as it is so new, and it will ultimately need to be defined by companies in the market. Spark Therapeutics’ potential approval in this area this year will be very instructive for the market.

What factors have helped or hindered biotech startups generally and in this region in particular?

The ability of academic institutions that generate great research to work with industry is a critical factor. As those two groups work better together, it provides a better foundation for the startup community and for investors including Militia Hill. We’ve chosen to build companies in Greater Philly specifically because of the region’s tremendous talent base throughout the development lifecycle, all the way from discovery through to commercialization. There are very few regions in the world that offer this type of talent pool, and we are utilizing it on a daily basis.

Is the investment landscape more or less favorable than it was when you were the head of NuPathe?

The landscape ebbs and flows and changes year to year, not unlike during the tenure of NuPathe. When you’re starting and running companies, you need to constantly monitor the investment landscape and adjust your strategies as needed.

What are some insights you have taken from starting and leading your own business that has informed how you work with biotech entrepreneurs?

What I learned starting and running businesses over the years could fill a book. Some key takeaways include: If you want to be a successful biotech entrepreneur, you really need to have a mindset that allows you to solve problems and work well with teams. No matter how smart and committed an entrepreneur might be, you can’t do it alone. The ability to know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses are critical to building a successful company around you and the entrepreneur. You need a team of investors, management, R&D, and commercial experts to get your moving towards and beyond those key milestones.

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Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing