Dr. Leen Kawas Details How Propel Bio Partners is Helping to Shape a New Venture Capital Paradigm

Leen Kawas
5 min readFeb 1, 2024

Dr. Leen Kawas of Propel Bio Partners highlights ways in which the venture capital paradigm is shifting in the biotechnology industry, and how to stay ahead of the curve.

Launching every new company begins with a great idea. The entrepreneur’s skill set and business knowledge, combined with dedication and hard work, will benefit them as they move forward. Although some founders are assisted by a small team, many entrepreneurs work long hours alone.

Of course, sufficient capital is a key requirement regardless of the industry. With often limited financial resources, entrepreneurs must look for external funding. In many cases, poorly capitalized startups fail before they even launch an offering into the marketplace.

That’s where a venture capital (or VC) firm often steps in. These companies provide funding to start-up and early-stage businesses with promising growth potential. Investment banks, certain financial institutions, and well-heeled individuals are examples of VC investors. Propel Bio Partners, a biotechnology-focused venture capital firm, works with varied investment partners.

Many venture capital firms provide managerial and/or technical expertise along with financial capital. For their sustained commitment, the investors frequently receive company equity and a voice in business decisions. Although the entrepreneurs may lose some autonomy, they receive much-needed capital and expertise when it matters most.

Biotechnology Industry VC Firms’ Impressive Performance

The global biotechnology industry continues to generate innovative therapies and other targeted breakthroughs. Like conventional businesses, biotech firms rely on venture capital resources, equity investments, and public offerings. Each firm’s biotechnology niche, and its business stage, help determine the needed type(s) of investments.

Exceptional Biotech Venture Capital Results

In 2021 and 2022, biotech venture capital firms greatly increased their industry involvement. In 2023, a growing number of biotech investments focused on transformational concepts and therapies. Platform technologies, applicable to diverse medical conditions and treatment scenarios, comprised much of these investment dollars.

For perspective, biotechnology platform technologies together received $15.5 billion in investments in 2022. This total represents more than two-thirds of all biotechnology VC investor funds for the year. During the same period, asset-based firms with drug development projects only received $6.5 billion in venture capital funding.

Dr. Leen Kawas Presents the Propel Bio Partners Vision

Leen Kawas, Ph.D. is Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner. She helped to articulate the Los Angeles-based firm’s vision. “Our vision is to create an engine to advance technologies and therapies that can help people live healthier, happier, and smarter. Bringing my and the team’s extensive operational, strategic, and financial experience, we hope to propel the mission of our companies.

“The work we are doing will help people now and for many years to come. Eradicating diseases is something that impacts individuals, families, societies, and the world,” Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized. She has been personally impacted, as her grandmother was affected by Alzheimer’s. This experience motivated Dr. Kawas to enter the biotechnology industry to find solutions for this and other diseases.

Propel’s Team Brings Diverse Talents to the Table

To help achieve Propel Bio Partners’ vision, Dr. Leen Kawas combines proven technological and entrepreneurial expertise. She strongly believes that these attributes enable her to view candidates through a different lens compared to VC firms that focus only on prospects’ financial viability.

Before co-founding Propel in 2022, Dr. Kawas spent seven years at Athira Pharma, Inc. As the firm’s Chief Executive Officer (or CEO), she successfully managed multiple drug development projects. In addition, Dr. Leen Kawas coordinated Athira Pharma’s Initial Public Offering (or IPO) in September 2020.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ leadership is augmented by Propel team members’ scientific, operational, and financial expertise. “If a company needs our input on an operational or regulatory strategy, we provide experienced advice but more importantly are able to bring the right expert to support our portfolio companies,” she emphasized.

Collectively, the team’s prior experiences enable them to implement de-risking strategies along with spurring accelerated (and cost-effective) life science product development. Dr. Kawas stresses that educating biotech entrepreneurs in similar techniques can improve their odds of success.

Propel Bio Partners’ Ideal Biotech Investment Candidate

As Propel Bio Partners’ Managing General Partner, Dr. Leen Kawas seeks out start-up and early-stage biotechnology entrepreneurs who combine scientific innovation and a penchant for creativity. Dr. Kawas is essentially looking for “the cream of the crop.”

Although Dr. Kawas ideally wants to work with female and/or minority biotech entrepreneurs, she remains open to pitches from every company. Founders that meet key requirements, and excel at due diligence, have a good chance of positive outcomes. Entrepreneurs who operate with a short-term outlook, rather than a longer-term vision, are less likely to receive assistance.

Dr. Leen Kawas’ Ideal Biotech Investment Candidate Criteria

Dr. Kawas describes the ideal investment candidate’s attributes. “Again, we’re not going into areas where it’s very busy, it’s product Number 10. No, it has to be first-in-class or best-in-class…Sometimes, you could have a product that is so clear, and from the outside, it could appear that this is an indication, that this is a product that is de-risked.

“[However], you’re not only approving the product and the mechanism of action of how the product is working. You’re also evaluating the clinical strategy, clinical development, and execution. Do you believe that this management can execute?”

“We spend a lot of time with management. The unique thing about [the] life science industry is you cannot make decisions in isolation. If you’re making a financial or a corporate decision, you have to think about the product development [and] the science. It’s always multifactorial decision-making,” Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized.

Propel Bio Partners’ Overarching Paradigm: Two Key Components

Looking toward the future, Dr. Leen Kawas plans to further expand Propel Bio Partners’ innovative toolkit of financial resources, technological expertise, and entrepreneurial guidance. She believes that the firm is ideally positioned to meet biotech entrepreneurs’ multifaceted needs.

Propel’s roadmap includes two key tenets applicable to a broad landscape. “If we invest in companies with successful products, and capable teams, the financial return will follow…Grow the fund; continue to invest in companies with significant potential,” Dr. Leen Kawas emphasized.

Dr. Leen Kawas also plans to continue her efforts to integrate diversity into clinical trial management. She believes that more female and minority clinical trial managers will lead to higher participation rates.

In addition, Dr. Kawas strongly feels that patients should be included in virtually every phase of the drug discovery and development cycles. Currently, patients are only brought on board near a cycle’s conclusion.

Finally, Dr. Leen Kawas reflects on her Managing General Partner role. Despite being required to juggle many balls, and frequently switch between the business and technical aspects of her job, she continues to be motivated by one driving factor: “The potential impact of our industry and the amazing people and entrepreneurs I get to work with day to day.”

Originally published at https://illinoisnewstoday.com on February 1, 2024.

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