Working the White Board with America’s Greatest Modern Day Inventor: Bob Langer

By Terry McGuire, Co-Founder & Managing General Partner, Polaris Partners

New York Times reporter Hannah Seligson published a terrific article last week on our friend and colleague, Bob Langer, who I consider America’s greatest modern day inventor.

Ms. Seligson did her homework and found that Bob is very close to tying Thomas Edison in number of patents held.  Take it from me; I wouldn’t be surprised to see Edison’s American patent record surpassed by Bob.

The depth-and-breath of Bob’s work is almost unfathomable, even when I carve it to just the companies we’ve built together: 18 companies, covering 33 therapeutic areas, with the potential to improve the health of some 2.5 billion lives.

Together, we’ve also branched out to the big consumer area, bringing sophisticated biotech science to the consumer beauty product space.  After reviewing similar lists of hair product ingredients in major brands, Polaris partners Jon Flint and Amir Nashat met with Bob to see what innovations might be brought to hair and skin products…innovations that showed proven benefit.   This white board session ultimately led to the company Living Proof, which today has over 30 beauty awards, six patents, and won over actress Jennifer Aniston so much that she is now a co-owner.

The true enjoyment in my career and those of my partners comes from working with entrepreneurs like Bob at the white board. And I mean this in the very literal sense.  Most companies first start as projects in a conference room.  We think through the potential applications of a new technology, develop milestones to test assumptions, and build a team to execute against the milestones.  Ultimately, we use the evidence collected from the milestone process to make go-, no-go investment decisions.

The company Momenta is good example.  Bob and MIT’s Ram Sasisekharan worked closely over the years with partner Alan Crane to build this important company.  Together, their partnership ultimately lead to the development of  enoxaparin, a low-molecular-weight heparin product widely used for the prevention and treatment of deep vein thrombosis and treatment of acute coronary syndromes.  Momenta, with Alan as CEO, ultimately went public in 2004 and was a more than 6x exit for our investors.

When we started Polaris more than 15-years ago now, our goal was to forge deeper relationships with entrepreneurs by rolling up our sleeves together to help build important companies. Using this approach, today we are forging ahead with very promising healthcare companies, such as Cerulean (Ram, Bob, Alan, Polaris Principle Kevin Bitterman), whose lead product candidate was named one of the “Top 10 Oncology Projects to Watch” by an independent panel of experts; and Selecta (Bob, HMS professor Omid Farokhzad, and Amir) which last week announced a $900 million partnership with Sanofi.

And we use this same approach in our Technology and Consumer efforts.

Thomas Edison once said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  That math is probably about right.  And genius requires a true collaborative team.

Related Articles:

New York Times:  Hatching Ideas, and Companies, by the Dozens at M.I.T.

Bloomberg: Vibrating Gel May Give New Voice to Throat-Cancer Patients

Xconomy: Selecta in Development Deal with Sanofi Worth up to $900 Million

BioSpace: Cerulean Pharma’s Lead Candidate Selected as a “Top 10 Oncology Project to Watch”



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