Shasqi featured in the San Francisco Business Times for JPM20

January 07, 2020

We are proud to share an article by Ron Leuty, Staff Reporter for the San Francisco Business Times, about Shasqi and our attendance at the JPMorgan 2020 conference

How a small biotech worked its way out of storage space during the industry’s biggest conference

In its own way, Shasqi Inc. will draw a crowd around next week’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference.

Yes, José Mejîa Oneto’s young San Francisco company has only eight employees and doesn’t possess a deep portfolio of drugs.

But Shasqi does offer a new way to boost the effectiveness and precision of drugs, launching its first cancer-fighting drug trial in humans in the second quarter. Perhaps just as importantly, it has four years of experience building a network of biotech industry business development executives at the industry’s biggest dealmaking conference.

Those meetings during the space-challenged “JPM Week” included one with representatives of a mid-sized pharma company two years ago inside a storage area of a Union Square hotel.

“Everybody was such a good sport about it,” Mejîa Oneto said. “Someone had dropped the ball — there was supposed to be a table in the lobby — but actually it was very nice.”

In all, Mejîa Oneto will meet with about a half-dozen companies during this year’s JPM Week, a mishmash of 20,000-plus people and hundreds of meetings that help investors and business development executives identify companies to ignore or follow up with for potential financial deals or scientific collaborations. Most of Shasqi’s meetings will be at its labs — about nine blocks from the Westin St. Francis hotel, where the J.P. Morgan conference begins Jan. 13.

Shasqi’s lab work and Mejîa Oneto’s legwork have put the company in the position to deliver, Mejîa Oneto said. It listened to larger companies and watched biotech trends, then it decided last year that its bioorthogonal “click” chemistry work would better be more effective in snaring a deal if Shasqi focused solely on cancer. It spun off another company that holds the rights for the technology for diseases outside of cancer.

Shasqi then lined up a $10 million Series A round in August that was led by an unidentified high-net-worth individual and included Y Combinator, the Mountain View-based seed accelerator that has backed the likes of Stripe, Airbnb, Instacart and Dropbox.

“The best opportunity was to separate (the companies) before doing a financing and invest everything into one asset,” Mejîa Oneto said. “Most companies really are more focused on specific areas than a behemoth with multiple different things.”

Shasqi’s chemistry — creating a reaction inside of living systems without interfering with native processes — is key to creating cancer prodrugs that can be activated at the site of a tumor. As opposed to many drugs that are active soon after they are swallowed or injected, Shasqi’s approach could boost dosing of cancer drugs while reducing side effects.

In a way, Shasqi hopes to unwrap what larger biopharmaceutical companies want as well as what they need.

“The most important thing to keep in mind is what people want,” Mejîa Oneto said. “Pharma is focusing on new pathways but no one would close the door to really meaningful drugs with human data.”

But how do small companies cut through the literal and scientific noise of JPM Week to get heard by potential investors and partners? Leverage your network, Mejîa Oneto said.

“Getting through the door to meet with somebody is important, but you’ve got to under-promise and over-deliver,” he said. “This is a long game. Bringing drugs to humans is not usually a one- or two-year flip.”

The full article can be found here

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