Third Rock’s Alexis Borisy on bringing the perspective of a healthcare investor to the NVCA chair

Alexis Borisy will take over later this month as the chair of the National Venture Capital Association and bring to the year-long position the perspective of a healthcare investor.

Borisy, a partner at Third Rock Ventures, says he views his new role as a civic responsibility, and one that corresponds with a productive time for life sciences investing.

“We are in a golden era of innovation,” he says. “Our understanding of the molecular science and how the human body works has moved so far forward.”

But what could be a multi-decade period of innovation will depend in no small way on creating the right policy environment to regulate and price drug and medical innovations.

Borisy says one important emphasis of his is the “stability of expectations.”

“It is much more challenging to mobilize capital and investment and bring teams of great people together around very exciting and high potential science and technology if the goal posts keep shifting,” he says.

Another topic that sparks his passions is diversity.

“What we do is we’re looking for the best and the brightest, period,” he says. “The best and brightest come from all creeds, backgrounds, and different ways of thinking. Venture is not about being trapped into a single, or conventional, way of thinking. It is something we need to continue to be crystal clear about.”

How that message will resonate in the era of President Trump is an open question. Venture wants to draw from the global talent pool, he notes.

VCJ recently had the opportunity to speak with Borisy. An edited version of the conversation follows.

Q: What motivated you to become the next chair of the NVCA?

A: I see taking on the chairmanship of the NVCA as something I do as a civic responsibility. I think policy can have a huge effect on emerging opportunities.

Q: Policy seems to be having an increasing impact on venture capital. Do you agree?

A: Good policy can be enormously helpful and stimulating to help make new incredible things happen. (And) policy gets set by the people who show up and put in the effort.

Q: Are there particular issues where you hope to focus?

A: One of the things that I think is really important in a message, and this is true in life sciences, but it goes broadly into any form of new technology, innovation and investment, is the stability of expectations. It is really important. What are the rules of the road?

It is much more challenging to mobilize capital and investment and bring teams of great people together around very exciting and high potential science and technology if the goal posts keep shifting.

Q: The medical industry has just witnessed a strong year of drug approvals. What involvement do you expect on this front?

A: There’s a lot more breakthrough therapies coming. This has been in many ways the middle of a golden era of innovation in life sciences, in new innovative breakthrough drugs. It is very important that we don’t do something that causes that innovation to dry up.

Q: Late last year Foundation Medicine won a simultaneous approval from the FDA and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services for a cancer test. How do you view the importance of this decision?

A: There hasn’t been a well-established path of what you need to do, such as what type of evidence you need to generate. to get clear securing of FDA approval and reimbursement. And so that action is a significant step to creating that clear path.

Q: Diversity is an issue that has become front and center for venture. How do you expect to weigh in?

A: You want diverse backgrounds, ways of thinking, technology and styles of working together. Innovation and venture are better the more diverse and inclusive they are so that you are sure you’re getting the best and the brightest ideas, the best and the brightest minds, the best and the brightest ways of working together to translate those ideas.

And that also means getting the best and the brightest from across the world.

Q: Sounds like diversity will be an important issue for you.

A: Maintaining the settings and conditions for that from a global perspective and here at home is an extraordinary important component and something we will continue to pay a lot of attention to over the course of the next year.

Q: How do you expect to address it on the national stage in the era of President Trump?

A: Number one is we always need to provide awareness and clarity of the message of what has made us so successful. And (then) what is necessary to continue to make us so successful.

Q: I imagine during your tenure that sexual harassment will remain a topic of discussion. How do you plan to reach out on this issue?

A: There is no room for sexual harassment. There is no room for bias on gender, color of skin, orientation. This is an industry that is about innovation and building the new.

There are enormous numbers of really great people in the venture industry. I think there have been bad actors. I think those bad actors have no place.

All of us redoubling our awareness of, attention to and passion for that diversity and inclusion (are important) because not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s what’s best for the businesses we build.

Photo of Alexis Borisy, partner at Third Rock Ventures, courtesy of the firm.