L.A. Venture Capital Firm MarsBio Scrambles to Secure Cash, Resources for Coronavirus Vaccines, Test Kits
Rachel Uranga covers the intersection of business, technology and culture. She is a former Mexico-based market correspondent at Reuters and has worked for several Southern California news outlets, including the Los Angeles Business Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. She has covered everything from IPOs to immigration. Uranga is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism and California State University Northridge. A Los Angeles native, she lives with her husband, son and their felines.
The terrifying stories of Italian doctors running low on respirators as COVID-19 patients overwhelmed hospitals inspired Joe Wilson, a partner at bioscience venture capital fund MarsBio, to create a way to quickly fund new coronavirus' vaccines, testing kits and other lifesaving ideas.
Over the last week, the fund launched by Soylent Nutrition co-founder and biohacker Rob Rhinehart, has fielded more than a dozen calls and made connections with startups and scientists that have ideas about how to quickly combat the spread of the deadly virus.
One of those known as Curative Inc., led by Fred Turner, has already set up shop in San Dimas and is now ramping up production of testing kits thanks to the connection.
"The stories felt like they couldn't possibly be real as they were so horrific, and yet they kept coming," Wilson said. "There are crises all the time, but I felt like this is one that we can do something and contribute to."
This week, MarsBio posted a call for proposals to those working on research or an idea that would combat the fast-spreading virus, particularly through vaccine development, public safety and prevention, treatment and operational response. The effort is not a venture fund, rather the group is looking for backers for individual projects that can address the pandemic.
"We think we can have a pretty big impact and we are seeing it already," he said.
The idea behind the group is to vet those ideas that can make the highest impact and then help them get funding — whether it be through grants, government, individuals or other sources like connecting them with operational help.
"Even a million dollars from these sources could have an outsize impact on COVID-19 outcomes," Wilson said.
Earlier this week, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $125 million effort with Wellcome and Mastercard to form the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, to find potential treatments. The firm hopes to tap into that new wave of new funding, as the world scrambles to stem the crisis and businesses search for solutions.
To vet the ideas, MarsBio will be bring on other academics, scientists, epidemiologists, clinicians and people outside the firm's core expertise.
"We take a very science-first lead," said general partner Llewellyn Cox, founder of LabLaunch which helps connect early state companies with lab space.
All the partners are trained scientists and entrepreneurs, noted Cox, who holds a doctorate in molecular and cell biology. And the firm, which backs early-stage bioscience companies in Southern California, boasts deep connections in Southern California's lab community.
Through those contacts, Cox put Curative in touch with KorvaLabs, where the Bay area company is now accelerating production of saliva test kits for the novel coronavirus. And the firm is helping Curative raise $800,000 and bulk up its workforce as the company ramps up their output.
"The best case scenario is we put a lot of time and energy into this, we highlight some really good ideas. It turns out to be less of an impact than you expect," Wilson said. "We don't think that's gonna happen. We think it is going to be bad. Hopefully, we can provide some scientific and some some operational support to make life a little bit easier."
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SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station today, becoming the first company to send humans to orbit on a commercial spaceship.
The Falcon 9 rocket's liftoff from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22 p.m. ET (12:22 p.m. PT) marked a feat that America hadn't been able to perform since NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011: launching American astronauts on an American rocket from American soil.
Lots happened in the L.A. tech and startup community this week. In a rundown of the top headlines, Chief Host and Correspondent Kelly O'Grady takes you through the key stories:
- President Trump's Executive Social Media Order Could Mean Trouble for Snap, TikTok
- Startups: Furniture Rental Servie Fernish Raises $10M Series A, Bird Could Thrive Post-COVID
- Media: HBO Max Launches, Esports Giant FaZe Clan Plans Expansion
- dot.LA Convenes -- Challenges Women Face with Confidence in a Virtual World
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- Los Angeles Tech and Startup Week in Review - dot.LA ›
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Coronavirus Updates: Netflix Buys Egyptian Theatre for Post-Pandemic Premiers; TrueCar Lays Off Staff
Here are the latest headlines regarding how the novel coronavirus is impacting the Los Angeles startup and tech communities. Sign up for our newsletter and follow dot.LA on Twitter for the latest updates.
- Facing twin threats, TrueCar lays off 40 percent of staff
- Netflix buys Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre to stage post-pandemic events, movie premieres
Facing twin threats, TrueCar lays off 40 percent of staff<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjgzMzYzNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzg5MjUyMX0.Wx6LVxNhx4WbcMFiQkuylQLs5AO2G-_4iQtc61SrdRQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="dc12e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f06205606520be18d44ae28069fd271e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Santa-Monice based TrueCar laid off 219 employees Thursday, which represents 40 percent of its workforce. The cuts are partly a reaction to Covid-19 and fewer people buying cars. They are also a response to the loss of a crucial partnership with USAA that expires at the end of September. That deal accounted for 29% of cars sold last year. </p><p>The cuts will save TrueCar $35 million a year, according to an analyst note from JMP Securities. </p><p>While TrueCar would seem to benefit from car shoppers wanting to have less face-to-face contact at dealerships, the company is not immune from the large pressures the industry is facing. With that said, auto sales have bounced back more quickly than analysts anticipated. </p><p>"With website traffic and purchase intent returning to pre-COVID-19 levels for the last two weeks of April and these trends continuing into May (and likely June), auto's recovery has surprised us," wrote Andrew Boone, vice-president at JMP Securities. </p>
Netflix buys Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre to stage post-pandemic events, movie premieres<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzM1NDU2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMDAzNzAxMn0.5nzkeqvFWx6-IduqjB4jCvwwfc9n2uLSieXjpOj7i-E/image.jpg?width=980" id="e09dd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d367203996d299149d47684f5b2122e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
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