Interview of Jas Seehra, CEO Keros
As CSO of Acceleron, Jas Seehra found himself immersed within the patient community suffering from neuromuscular disorders. Feeling their plight while building a keen understanding of the subject matter, Jas was charged with looking for additional neuromuscular related technologies that offered synergy with Acceleron’s portfolio. In that search, he came across unique IP from Paul Yu’s lab at Brigham & Women’s on a rare neuromuscular disease but would have to walk away due to timing.
After Acceleron, Jas consulted for a Third Rock Company named Ember Therapeutics, later joining as CEO. When Ember closed in 2014, his search for the next opportunity wasn't creating a spark. Meetings with VC companies led him in multiple directions, yet nothing seemed like a fit. The passion he had for neuromuscular disorders was calling to him.
“Life as a start-up CEO can be very stressful if you are not passionate about your work. If you are passionate about doing it, do so.”
Then Paul Yu, Keros scientific founder, called Jas about a drug discovery program he had been working on, and that was now ready to move into biotech, Jas was excited about the chance to once again work on rare, devastating muscle diseases.
From here, the Keros team started to fall into place. Jas was able to draw from the pool of talent which he had worked with and mentored in the past. “When you start multiple companies and develop people within them, there’s a succession planning with a pipeline of people who want to work together.”
Independently, Partners Innovation Fund (PIF) had been evaluating Paul Yu’s efforts, along with Israeli venture firms Pontifax and Arkin. Coincidentally, Jas and Jay Knowles (a PIF partner) had known each other for years, and the round came together. With Jas joining as CEO, PIF, Pontifax and Arkin all invested.
“Fundamentally PIF is an investment fund, but there is a mentoring aspect attached to it due to their academic ties,” said Jas. Further, he stated that he could have transparent conversations with PIF and share similar visions about team building, with the goals being to assemble a team of people who could genuinely work together with a degree of calm, especially helpful in early-stage biotech.
“One of the major differences of working with PIF is that they have a much better understanding of early-stage science than many other venture firms,” Jas said. He continued, “They also take a longer view of things and are more tolerant of early-stage risk. Their close connectivity to licensing helped the team. Growth is a good thing, but has to be done in moderation.”
As his third time as a CEO, Jas felt this would be “just right.” The initial investment of $10 million enabled him to do things his way, “small and focused” with twelve employees pushing towards two programs in the clinic next year. They plan to
keep the company small and growing at a controlled rate with Jas explaining that the culture has to be one where everyone is in a working equilibrium. If companies hire too early, people end up not knowing what they are supposed to do or how they fit in.
“When you are small you have your tasks and a clear vision. Losing focus can be straightforward when you grow at fast rates because there are a lot of shiny objects to distract you. This can be devastating to an organization and possibly a
catalyst for a startup’s downfall.”