Vipin K. Garg, PhD is the President and CEO of Tranzyme Pharma. Tranzyme is a late stage biotechnology company engaged in the discovery and development of first-in-class small molecule therapeutics for the treatment of both acute care (hospital-based) and chronic conditions with significant unmet medical need.
Under Dr. Garg’s leadership, Tranzyme has raised more than $50M to date and has advanced two products into clinical development. In 2005, Tranzyme was named one of the top 15 emerging biotechnology companies by FierceBiotech, a leading industry newsletter, and in 2006, Tranzyme’s lead product was featured as one of the five most promising new drugs to enter clinical development by Thomson Pharma’s report, “The Ones to Watch”. In March of last year Tranzyme’s drug, TZP-101, was recognized as one of the “100 Great Investigational Drugs – 2009” by R&D Directions.
Dr. Garg is the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2009 Award in the Carolinas, and has been recognized as a proven entrepreneur as a result of his innovative thinking and business acumen. Dr. Garg is also deeply committed to his family, his business and his community. Under Dr. Garg’s direction, Tranzyme has become an international innovator and developer of drugs for gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
During his career, Dr. Garg has been involved in several biotechnology companies and has managed operations in theUS, Europe andCanada.
He was a member of the US Presidential Mission to India led by President Bill Clinton in March 2000 and he currently serves on the board of the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED). He is a charter member of TiE, the world’s largest organization fostering entrepreneurship.
Kubi: You have worked for various companies, what drove you to join Tranzyme?
Dr. Garg: "I have been involved with this industry since the very beginning. This is my fifth company. Throughout my career, I have been afforded opportunities which allowed me to learn about most aspects of building and running a company. Moreover, I was always more interested in business even though I earned a PhD in science. Fortunately, I have been able to achieve my goals pursuing the business route in a scientific industry.”
“I moved to NC in 1994 to become the Chief Operating Officer for Apex Bioscience (now Curacyte AG, Germany). At the time, the company was funded by venture capitalists (VCs) who often play a pivotal role in building not only businesses but industries. I have had the privilege to work with VC backed companies throughout my career.”
According to Dr. Garg, start-up companies often rely solely on money raised by VCs in order to get the business going and then grow the company. “Once you’ve worked in the industry for a while and gotten to know and earn the respect of the VC community, they will actually start coming to you because they are always looking for sharp business people to work with”, he says.
Dr. Garg was of the view that the most difficult thing in a technology-driven field is finding people with advanced degrees in technology who also have an interest in business. Those who are good scientists, seldom enter into business.
“In my case I was both – technically trained and keen on business. That’s what enables me to knowledgably present ideas to the investors, and that is what business development is all about. You must understand the science and have a passion for business if you are to ultimately sell a high-end quality technical product to a business person. So that combination really helped me”, he said with pride.
“In 2001, I was approached by a local VC with a $2M investment to start Tranzyme and wanting to know if I was interested in being its founding CEO. That’s how it began – with me having the right ingredients from my experience coupled with relationships and a bit of serendipity. We have raised more than $50M since and have come a long way in growing the company”, he recounted about his successful venture.
Kubi: What are the challenges you faced building Tranzyme from a start-up to the product-focused biotech company it is today?
Dr. Garg: “Raising money and careful spending is critical to a growing company and is always a challenge for a pharmaceutical firm. The costs to discover, develop and bring to market new drugs takes large sums of money, many years, and patient investors. Unlike our business, start-up companies dealing in high-tech or IT can often earn a profit with an investment of as little as $10M. Building a pharmaceutical company requires continuous fund raising and meeting deliverables that continue to satisfy the investors that they will, in the end, get a good return on their investment. Selling the product will be easy if you can deliver a safe and effective drug to treat a disease where no treatment currently exists. Raising enough money to support the development and getting through the FDA approval process is the challenge.”
“Another challenge is having all of the skill sets at your disposal that are needed to build a company. As a CEO, it’s important to know where your own skills end and another’s begin. I have always believed you must surround yourself with smart people that each brings something different to the table. For example, we have two accomplished Medical Doctors on staff, and our chief scientific officer has an expansive history with big pharma. In order to attract this kind of talent, you first need to sell your investors on the benefits these individuals will bring, and then you have to convince the individuals to join you. You have to have built an environment where they want to spend their time, where there are significant opportunities for growth and for doing something creative. Their skills afford them many opportunities including yours.”
Dr. Garg is also a believer in maintaining flexibility, and if a strategy is no longer working - change it.
“Since it takes a long time to build a business like ours, things and circumstances will change over the course of time that may require you to adjust your strategy. You have to be both open-minded and nimble enough to react. In fact, Tranzyme’s original business plan was revamped even after we had raised our initial funding. Our flexibility allowed us to execute on a second business model and then build value around it.”
Kubi: Being the recipient of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® 2009 Award in the Carolinas. How do you feel about this?
Dr. Garg: “I deem it an honor for the whole company. Tranzyme’s success is a team effort and it takes a lot of people including our board of directors, our investors and all of our employees to build a company.”
Kubi: Dr. Garg, tell the readers about CED and other community organizations you’re involved with.
Dr. Garg: “CED is the oldest and largest entrepreneurial support organization in the country. In order to build global prosperity, we need as many people as possible to become entrepreneurs and this voluntary association helps do that through awareness, leadership programs, networking events, and the like. I currently sit on CED’s Board of Directors. I have also been involved with TiE for a number of years. TiE is a worldwide organization focused on nurturing entrepreneurship. I served for a time on the Board of the North CarolinaBiotechnologyCenter as well. My involvement in these organizations has certainly taught me a lot and exposed me to a number of highly accomplished people. I also enjoy spending time speaking about entrepreneurship at local universities. The young people are hungry for knowledge and lessons learned and I’m able to help them reaffirm their direction and allay whatever fears they may have. I love doing that, as it enables me to nurture more and more entrepreneurs.”
Kubi: Who has been or is the greatest inspiration for all of your success?
Dr. Garg: “My biggest inspiration for success is success itself. When you see other people succeeding around you, you get inspired and you learn a lot – especially about perseverance. As I said earlier, it takes a long time to build a successful biotech company and there are a lot of ups and downs along the way. The important thing is to ride out the down times and keep a positive attitude.
Kubi: Please tell us about Tranzyme’s drugs.
Dr. Garg: “The two drugs furthest along in development are TZP-101 and TZP-102 and the medical conditions we are treating relate to GI function. One of the diseases involves when a person’s stomach does not empty, so when they eat, the food just sits there. As you can imagine, this leads to a lot of other problems like nausea and vomiting, and for some, this happens every day making it impossible for them to work. There are about 5 million patients in the US alone who suffer from this condition and there really is no safe and effective treatment for it. The only drug approved for the condition has some serious and often irreversible side effects. So as you can see, these patients are very desperate which gives us a unique and exciting opportunity to help them improve their quality of life, and at the same time pay back our investors.”
Kubi: If you could do it all again, would you like to do it?
Dr. Garg: “Definitely - I would love to. In fact, that’s the plan. If you take a company to a successful exit, you want to go right back and do it again. The good news is you always learn from your experiences. With Tranzyme, we initially raised very little money ($2M) early in 2001 to get started and expected to raise more money the next year. But everyone knows what happened on 9/11 and everything came to a screeching halt and we lost two precious years (2002 & 2003) of fund raising. While we had made progress with the initial $2M, we did not have a sufficient runway to see us through the economic downturn. To survive, we had to change our business model for a period of time. We chose to sell some of our services (thus becoming a service company rather than a development company) to shore up the firm until we could go after additional financing in 2004. That experience taught me to always start with a little more runway than you think you need because things can go wrong and will go wrong and you don’t want to fall short.”
Kubi: What are your plans for the next coming years? Are you going for an IPO?
Dr. Garg: “Our plan is to continue to build our business and the appropriate strategy will become obvious. IPO is one of the many options that we can consider. We have two valuable products in our pipeline and as big pharma blockbuster drug patents (drugs like Lipitor) continue to expire, and since many big pharma have sidelined their research efforts, they are looking for new products they can sell. As a result, our options include other pharmaceutical companies interested in buying our products or entering into a partnership with us. Having said that, if IPO conditions are right and things are right for Tranzyme, we'll certainly take a hard look at that option as well.”
Kubi: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy doing?
Dr. Garg: “Travelling with my family is what I enjoy the most. In this business sometimes I really get very busy just running the company, so the best way to spend quality time with the family is to take off some time from the routine. I also watch sports, play golf and enjoy outdoor activities.”
“I consider my community involvement as a hobby as well. I enjoy the social events and activities, the entrepreneurial groups, working on the various boards, and helping to raise awareness of how important it is for people to get involved with their community, such as CED, TiE, or taking part in the local, state and national political processes.”
Kubi: Departing thoughts for the community?
Dr. Garg: “We need a lot more entrepreneurs and anyone can become one. They could be an Engineer, Doctor, Scientist, Accountant, or an Attorney; regardless of training, all it takes is a new or a better idea. Can you create something of value that somebody is going to want to pay for in the end? Can you improve on a process that will save people money? Can you improve someone’s quality of life? There are unlimited opportunities out there and we need to encourage our children and everyone around us to continuously think outside of the box. We are very fortunate that we have a lot of entrepreneurs in our community - we just need more of them.”