Shark Tank Billionaire Mark Cuban Invests in Tiny Bay Area Biotech Perlara
By Mark Terry
Billionaire Mark Cuban has his fingers in a lot of pies. He’s probably best known for being the owner of the Dallas Mavericks pro basketball team and one of the “shark” investors on the ABC reality TV show, “Shark Tank,” although his investments are extensive. And now he’s invested $250,000 into a small South San Francisco-based biotech company, Perlara, as part of the company’s $7.4 million equity round.
Perlara announced the close of the round yesterday, with participation by Pivotal Capital Alpha, Al-Hamra Group, Radical Investments, Homebrew Ventures, Haystack Fund and existing investors, including Y Combinator. Novartis also participated under a research collaboration with the company.
How Cuban got involved was through a seemingly random Twitter “conversation” between Cuban and the company’s founder and chief executive officer, Ethan Perlstein. After Cuban had tweeted about biotech and drug pricing, Perlstein had joked on Twitter, “Mark’s a Bernie Bro after all!” referring to Senator Bernie Sanders, who during the 2016 presidential election took a strong stand on drug pricing.
As reported by Endpoints News, Perlstein said, “His tweet indicated that he hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the ins and outs of biopharma and tech transfer. The next thing I know, I got a message from him asking for my pitch deck. I was like, ‘is this a joke?’”
Perlara, originally founded in 2014 as Perlstein Lab, PBC, the company is a biotech startup and Public Benefit Corporation. It focuses on rare diseases. The company utilizes a platform of genetically engineered animals, such as yeast, nematodes, fruit flies and zebrafish in phenotypic screens to identify orphan drug candidates. Its proof-of-concept diseases are Niemann-Pick type C (NPC), a lysosomal storage disorder and NGLY1 Deficiency, a metabolic disease related to proteasome-mediated degradation.
A Public Benefit Corporation is a type of corporate structure that under some state laws, requires companies to provide social and environmental benefit. The constraints are similar to those for nonprofit organizations, but without the restraint on retaining profits for shareholders.
Perlara has six drug programs for ultra-rare diseases. It’s mostly developed partnerships with patient groups, plus the research deal with Novartis. So far the company has raised $9.9 million since its inception.
Perlstein had also held Twitter exchanges with Martin Shkreli, founder and chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals before publicly shooting his mouth off and his eventual felony conviction. “I wasn’t asking people for investment on Twitter or anything, I was just commenting on science for rare diseases,” Perlstein said to Endpoints News. “It caught Martin’s attention.”
Shkreli invested in Perlara and for a brief period was involved with the company, but in early 2016, Perlstein asked the so-called “Pharma Bro” to separate from the company. “I asked him to be bought out by other shareholders,” Perlstein said. “Now he’s out of the cap table and out of the company. He can destroy your reputation just by association. Plus, I had learned he wasn’t a good person to do business with.”
In a statement, Perlstein said, “With this funding we will be able to advance programs forward, discover novel lead compounds for our first three PerlQuest partners, and double our disease pipeline with the launch of six new PerlQuests.”