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Beth, what sparked your interest in healthcare?
With a father and grandfather as physicians, and a great-uncle who was a toxicologist—not to mention a grandmother who was a phlebotomist—I was born into medicine. My dad was a cardiovascular surgeon who did research in the 1950s that made vascular microsurgery possible. Being surrounded by family members in medicine and science shaped my love of medicine and helping people. It set me on a path to medical school.
Before becoming a VC, you had a long career on the research and development side of large pharmaceutical and biotech companies. What drew you to industry instead of direct patient care?
I wanted to have a larger impact than an individual patient at a time. Working in the industry allowed me the opportunity to develop new products for large populations of patients.
What spurred your shift to investing?
In 2005, I was introduced to Brook Byers, a partner at Kleiner Perkins, by Pitch Johnson, who was one of the first investors in Amgen, where I was working at the time as Chief Medical Officer. After 18 years in industry focused on clinical research, it was time to make a change. Becoming a VC has turned out to be the highlight of my career. It pulled together everything that mattered to me: medicine, product development, having an impact on treating diseases and working with great entrepreneurs.
How do biotech startups differ from other new companies?
Biotech founders are a special breed. They need to understand science and technology. Many are driven to address specific disease areas and sometimes for deeply personal reasons because you have to be all in, all the time. And they must be great leaders. Every single founder I’ve worked with would run through walls to achieve their mission.
Are there limits to what can be done with current biotechnology techniques?
We’re in a golden era in biotech, with major breakthroughs occurring—even cures—in some cancers and other diseases. There are always limits, but new technology is being discovered daily.