There's an interesting follow-up over at SciBX to Bruce Booth's piece on the reproducibility of academic research. Booth, in his position as a venture capital purse-string holder, advocated caution and careful verification of exciting academic discoveries before starting the company-formation process.
The SciBX folks followed up with him and with several other VCs. Booth sticks to his position, and says that his firm, Atlas Venture, has allocated money to allow CROs to do reality checks on the new ideas that they see. Daphne Zohar at PureTech Ventures takes a similar line, but says that they do this sort of work with the originators of the technology, giving it a quiet shakedown before talking to investors. They do use CROs when appropriate, though.
On the other end of the spectrum, though, you have Camille Samuels at Versant Ventures:
“I think the best way to prevent yourself from funding biotechs that have a faulty scientific basis is to develop a trusting relationship with the scientific founders,” she told SciBX. “I think that starting a productive, long-term business relationship is hard to do if you use a ‘guilty before proven innocent’ approach.”
Samuels favors vetting the science with a top-notch scientific advisory team before launching a company. “If you hire great scientists to the company you will uncover the ‘over-reaching’ before you’ve spent any real money,” she noted.
I'm not so sure about that myself. While I agree that a good relationship between the VC people and the founding scientists is crucial, I think that any such relationship worthy of the name should be able to stand up to this sort of review. Everyone involved should be wise enough to realize this, and not take it personally. "Guilty until proven innocent", after all, is not such a bad attitude when you're looking at something that's interesting enough to trigger millions of dollars worth of investment. If the idea or technology is strong enough for real money, it's strong enough to handle a good shaking - and if it isn't, you'd want to know that as early as possible.
And to be honest, isn't it the same attitude that greets any big new discovery when it hits the literature? When some hot news comes out in a competitive field, the first thought of all the outside teams is "I wonder if that's real?" A big name or a trusted institution will buy a bit more benefit of the doubt, but not much, as well it shouldn't. I'm willing to believe that interesting results from a reliable research group are probably true, but I'll only put them in the "solid" category when I've seen someone else reproduce them (or have done it myself). That's science.