Delay the Scientific Advisory Board
Are you toiling on the early stages of building out a medical biotechnology startup? You may well be thinking about populating a scientific advisory board. By all means think about it - it is important in the longer term. Look for potential members, make connections, talk to the scientific community. But delay, delay, delay, on actually making anything official.
Why do I say this? The primary reason is that a scientific advisory board must be aligned with the indication or indications that you intend to pursue with regulators. Many founders feel a certain sense of urgency to have the public blessing of noted authorities, in the belief that it will sway investor sentiment. Yet you will already be associated with the scientists needed for credibility with investors by virtue of the biotechnology under development. Either the inventors of that biotechnology will be your co-founders, or they will be your initial advisors, but in these or other ways they will be involved from the outset. Further, the investors worth having are not all that interested in appearances; they will want to know about you, your technology, and your approach, and little else.
Most past medical biotechnologies had the potential to treat at least a few different conditions, all closely related to the targeted mechanisms. That is changing, however, the options expanding. In the case of rejuvenation biotechnologies that target molecular damage at the root of aging, or biotechnologies that can suppress major downstream consequences of that damage such as blood pressure or chronic inflammation, there may be scores of possible uses, each one of which splits into multiple indications. These clusters of indications tend to be associated with a range of different academic and research communities, the members of which are specialized and know little of one another's fields. Thus how will you choose the right scientists without knowing which condition it is that you will be trying to treat on your first run at the regulatory gauntlet?
Picking an indication isn't a simple choice. The broader the influence of a particular mechanism and biotechnology the harder it becomes to make that choice. A great deal of research and outreach is involved to weigh the pros and cons. Is the biotechnology very likely viable as treatment for this condition? Is there unmet need in the patient population? What is the competitive landscape of potential treatments? Is there a compelling case for the payers in the medical industry, the insurance providers and others, to approve payments for patient treatment? Is there an active patient advocacy community to fight with the payers on this topic? It isn't unreasonable for founders and early employees to take months to answer these questions, work carried out in parallel with early scientific and development programs.
What is the purpose of scientific advisors? It isn't in fact to look good for investors. It is to open doors and guide you in the challenging matter of translating a medical biotechnology into a therapy. This is difficult, very difficult, and not just technically, but also in the matter of relationships and logistics. You will need alliances with the patient communities, the centers that treat the specific condition that you are targeting, the leading researchers in that field. You will need to learn more than you ever wanted to know about manufacturing and preclinical testing, all the little details that will vary widely depending on exactly which type of medical condition is being targeted. Having the appropriate connections and the appropriate advisors is essential.
Solid advisory relationships require equity grants, and an advisory board cannot be so large as to be unwieldy. A dozen members is too many. There are only so many slots that can usefully be filled, only so much advice, and only so many connections that can be usefully assimilated by a startup company in a given period of time. Filling out an advisory board early will only mean that you likely choose poorly, spend time with people who cannot greatly help your final choice of strategy, and have to replace those advisors. Better not to get into that situation in the first place.