19 Feb Biotech executive books a career flight that's closer to home
Madison, Wis. – Gregg Fergus can tell his fellow travelers a thing or two about commuting.
The Madison native has joined Baird Venture Partners as an executive-in-residence and one of its portfolio companies, Caden Biosciences, as senior vice president of corporate development.
And since Fergus has been toiling in Silicon Valley California for the past nine years, his new posts reduce the distance between home and work.
By about 1,500 miles.
Fergus, 43, actually lives with his wife and three children in a home on Lake Kegonsa in Stoughton, and has been commuting between Greater Madison and Affymetrix, a $360 million gene chip manufacturer based in Santa Clara, Calif.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate with a bachelor of science degree in bacteriology, he will be based in Baird Venture Partners’ Madison office, replacing the friendly skies with the Beltline.
“It was a very good time to make the move,” Fergus said. “Commuting takes its toll, and I did it for nine years.”
Life science connections
Not that he’s completely done with travel. His new employers are counting on a number of things, not the least of which is the coast-to-coast network of contacts he’s made in his 20-plus years in the life sciences and diagnostic tool industries.
In addition to Affymetrix, Fergus has held executive positions with Amersham, a genomics company that now is part of GE Healthcare, and Covance, Inc., in Madison.
Pete Shagory, a partner in Baird Venture Partners, the U.S.-based venture capital arm of Baird Private Equity, said Fergus would reinforce Baird’s focus on the life-science tools market. He expects Fergus to help Baird’s healthcare and life science teams evaluate new investment opportunities, and manage its current portfolio of companies. Baird Private Equity has raised and managed $1.8 billion in capital.
“Gregg brings operational experience and perspective that will help us in a number of ways,” Shagory said. “He sharpens our strategic focus in tool diagnostics, and he brings a high level of expertise at different organizations that we could proactively pursue.
“He will add value in the portfolio companies in which we’ve already invested.”
Having him on the ground in Caden Biosciences, one of Baird’s portfolio companies, should add value in a very tangible way, Shagory said, and Bill Checovich, president and COO of Caden, is in no position to argue. Checovich has said Fergus will be counted on to bring the company’s technologies to the pharmaceutical and biotech markets.
Caden, which was relocated to Madison last year as part of a $5.85 million venture financing deal led by Baird Venture Partners, has developed a research tool – an assay – that could make it possible for researchers to screen for additional protein drug targets.
The company’s platform technology provides a method of screening that allows researchers to more precisely read cellular signals sent to G-protein coupled receptors, or GPRCs, which serve as the antenna on each cell, regulate a range of internal cellular functions, and are implicated in a variety of diseases.
Caden’s technology can both understand and modulate a receptor’s reaction to a specific G-protein, enabling scientists to measure which G-protein pathways are blocked and need to be stimulated. By exploring each pathway, the technology will enable researchers to identify drugs that can affect each pathway.
This is not the case today. There are anywhere from 800 to 1,000 GPCRs on the human genome. Of those, roughly 400 are thought to be pharmaceutically relevant, but only 40 have been successfully targeted by commercial drugs – representing $50 billion in annual sales – and many of those drugs have side effects.
Caden Biosciences might be able to partner with a big pharma company to pinpoint the remaining intractable targets, and address side effects in the 40 drugs that have been developed so far.
Fergus is not only eager to help Baird evaluate emerging markets in life science, he can’t wait to help Caden Biosciences take the next step.
“I can help them strategically think about who they should be partnering with,” Fergus said. “Should it be a services play, or a tool kit play, or a fee-for-service play as to how they are going to develop their assays?”
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