On-Site with Foresite: Meet Michael Rome

Dr. Michael Rome joined Foresite Capital in 2016 and leads the therapeutics investing practice, a multidisciplinary team comprising individuals with expertise in biopharma, finance, and academic science. With experience leading company formation, mergers and acquisitions, and private/public company structured financings, Michael is currently a board director at Kinnate Biopharma (Nasdaq: KNTE), Remix Therapeutics, XinThera, Theseus Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: THRX), and KinnJiu Pharma. Michael was a board director at Alumis where he led the acquisition of Fronthera Biopharma, and served on the board of Pharvaris (Nasdaq: PHVS), Turning Point Therapeutics (Nasdaq: TPTX, observer), and Nurix Therapeutics (Nasdaq: NRIX, observer).  Michael served as Vice President for Foresite Development Corporation II which successfully merged with Pardes Biosciences (Nasdaq: PRDS). Before Foresite Capital, he was an analyst at DAFNA Capital Management, covering therapeutics companies. He earned a BS in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and obtained his PhD in Biochemistry at Caltech as an NSF Fellow.

In this blog post, we sit down with Michael to get a better understanding of why he made the switch from biochemistry to investing, how his unique background plays a role in his investment strategy, his advice for founders, and more: 

Q: You started off your career by completing a PhD in Biochemistry – what inspired you to make the switch to investing?

I first became interested in investing and the financial markets as a student in college. When I learned that I could build a career combining my two passions, science and investing, I was instantly hooked and never looked back. The financial market’s ability to objectively measure performance has always been appealing to me. Changing financial conditions driven by large macroeconomic events (i.e. 2008 financial crisis, coronavirus in 2020, or fed hikes in 2022) have led to massive changes in public/private markets. As investors, we have no choice but to adapt. Reflecting on my career to date, I have always found this delicate balance of adjusting to market conditions while being a long-term investor, to be very rewarding. 

Q: How does your background as a PhD impact your view of startups in your current role? 

My technical background has enabled me to really get into the details of what our portfolio companies are doing, many of which are early-stage science companies. I spent roughly a decade training in an academic science environment, have published over 10 academic papers, and have been an invited speaker at academic conferences in my area of expertise (biochemistry). Most of these skills are transferable/applicable to a career in venture capital as it really helps me to speak the same language as our company founders or prospective entrepreneurs. 

My experience in academia also exposed me to early-stage biotech spin-outs from research collaborations between universities and industry. These experiences helped form my pattern recognition of what excellent science looks like, whether at a company or an academic lab. I was also fortunate enough to grow up in a scientific family (my dad has run an academic research lab for over 40 years and is still going!). 

Q: Leveraging your experience, can you tell us the top three things you look for that signal a startup in the biotech/healthcare space may be promising ?

  1. Experienced entrepreneurs are crucial in early-stage startups. Even if we are backing a first-time CEO, we need to feel comfortable that this person has adequate experience from prior companies to weather the bad times that many start-ups inevitably face. Oftentimes, we look at backing repeat entrepreneurs. 
  2. Having the right research and development team is vital at an early-stage biotech company. The field of drug development is complicated and requires dozens of experts to get a drug into phase 1 clinical testing in humans. Also, these areas are highly competitive. I look for research teams that have the ability to execute at each function, whether it’s the supply chain or regulatory interactions with the FDA. 
  3. Ostensibly, investing in the right technology is essential for success. We look to back concepts that will result in getting actual drugs into patients. Whether these are new cancer & cardiovascular drugs, or novel oral treatments for inflammatory conditions, I like to invest in areas that have high unmet medical needs and will truly impact patients’ lives. 

Q: What’s your best advice for founders in the biotech/healthcare startup space? 

Properly capitalizing on an early-stage startup is important, especially in a bear market. I always tell our CEOs – raise money when you can, not when you have to. Drug development almost always has unexpected surprises so it’s important to raise a little more money than necessary in accommodative financial times. 

Q: The US is set to invest over $2 billion to launch the new national bio-manufacturing initiative from the White House. How do you think this will impact the landscape/industry? Where do you think this funding can be best put to use, and why? 

I think this funding could go to several areas and have a significant impact. One important area is future vaccine preparedness for the next inevitable pandemic; it would be great to respond to the next pandemic promptly and have therapies ready to go for patients. 

Q: What new innovations are you most closely watching in the space over the next year?

I am really interested in developing oral, easy-to-access treatments for patients with chronic inflammatory conditions like psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. I believe we are in an era where we’ll see expensive injectable treatments have a better oral drug alternative in the next 10 years – all through scientific innovation. This area greatly interests me because better oral treatments will bring costs down versus injectable agents, encourage competition from generic competitors, and produce better options for patients. 


On-Site with Foresite is a blog series that uncovers the unique trajectories, insights and professional experiences of the Foresite Capital team.