Posted January 12, 2020

“The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” —William Osler, Founding Professor, Johns Hopkins Hospital

Our healthcare system is sick. If the disease is spiraling drug prices, how do we treat the patient: the healthcare industry? We badly need not only effective medicines, but a more effective way to make medicines. If we want revolutionary therapies, we’re going to need to revolutionize the system in order to afford them. It’ll require radical surgery. 

Which is where EQRx comes in. Founded by Alexis Borisy, a leading biotechnology entrepreneur and investor, and Melanie Nallicheri, a seasoned biotech and healthcare executive, EQRx is a first-of-its-kind bio company. EQRx aims to change the way medicines are discovered, developed, and brought to people, and to make medicines more efficiently and cost-effectively. Their goal is to do this at unprecedented speed and scale: to launch their first medicine within five years, and to have 10 approved medicines within 10. 

But how? What secret do they have that the multi-billion dollar biopharma industry doesn’t? Often the biggest innovations in technology address the process, not the product. Take Amazon, for example; by building a different retailer from the ground up and infusing tech throughout, they were able to deliver products faster, at a lower price and a higher margin. This simply can’t be done by revamping an existing company, as many retailers and other companies have tried. In much the same way, EQRX is now reimagining how medicines are created, tested, and commercialized by re-engineering the system itself. 

The hallmark of good engineering is where the solution is simple, but not easy; the answer elegant, but not overwrought. EQRx shifts science risk to execution risk by focusing on known biology, where drug targets have been validated and proven valuable for treating a disease. They remove friction within the system through early and deep partnerships across the healthcare value chain. And most importantly, they integrate data science and technology end-to-end throughout the discovery and development process. Engineering a better product is good, but engineering a better process is best.

Revolutionizing the biopharmaceutical industry is an ambitious fight to pick. But the most effective revolutionaries break out from the inside, where they can see the cracks most clearly. Alexis founded his first company in his 20s and went on to launch Blueprint Medicines, which recently received FDA approval for its precision therapy for rare stomach cancers, as well as Foundation Medicine, which was acquired by Roche for over $5Bn. With a decade-long tenure at Third Rock Ventures, he was a founding investor and board member of many leading life science companies. Melanie first worked with Alexis at Foundation, where she served as Chief Business Officer and head of the biopharma business unit. And her stints at pharmaceutical distribution giant McKesson and global health consultant Booz Allen have given her a deep and wide view of the entire battleground map for the healthcare system.

To pull this off will require equal parts vision, strategy, technology, a maniacal obsession with process and execution, and an engineer’s drive for relentless iteration and continuous improvement. Industry incumbents may be weighed down by legacy mindsets and infrastructure, but EQRx will need to be very light on its feet if it hopes to outrun them. This is a16z’s sweet spot: battle-hardened entrepreneurs with a bold vision for how to use technology to transform an industry and build a new world. I am thrilled to announce that a16z, along with ARCH and GV, is co-leading the Series A investment in EQRx, joined by an incredible group of investors including Casdin Capital, Section 32, Nextech, and Arboretum Ventures. As a board member, I’m honored to support EQRX’s commitment to making innovative medicines at dramatically lower prices for the benefit of people, the system and society. 

Most companies have a mission statement. EQRx has a rallying cry: “Remake medicine.” Because it’s about time.