The top 25: Barbara Dalton, senior managing partner, Pfizer Ventures
Barbara Dalton has been running US-listed drugs company Pfizer’s corporate venturing unit since she joined in 2007 as vice-president. But her knowledge of the industry stretches back a quarter of a century to when she started as president of UK-based pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK)’s corporate venturing unit, SR One, in 1993.
Founded by Peter Sears in 1985, SR One first invested on behalf of SmithKline Beckman before a series of mergers resulted in GSK. Dalton became president in 2001 when Brenda Gavin, who took over from Sears in 1999, moved on to co-found Quaker BioVentures.
After formally leaving SR One in 2003, Dalton joined EuclidSR Partners, a $260m venture firm set up in 2000 and backed by GSK. EuclidSR grew out of a partnership between venture firm Euclid Partners and SR One, and Dalton and other SR One principals invested on behalf of both GSK and EuclidSR until their departure in 2003.
She worked at EuclidSR until the start of 2007 – an era typified by the difficulty of floating or selling portfolio companies following the dot.com bubble – and has now spent a dozen years at Pfizer.
But for corporate venturers, financial returns are usually only table stakes to align with VCs and avoid being a cost centre to the parent. The potential for greater support to portfolio companies by connecting them to the corporation and providing strategic insights and options to the parent offer a dimension of value-added investing.
At EuclidSR she worked with Elaine Jones, who also joined her at Pfizer Ventures and retired in April 2019, while the third member of the team is Bill Burkoth.
Her team at the $600m Pfizer Ventures puts out about $50m a year in cheque sizes of up to $10m per round and is both active and successful. She has managed more than 30 fund investments and 80 diverse company investments in the US and Europe and has had direct investing responsibility for biotechnology therapeutic and platform companies, as well as some healthcare IT and service businesses, including Accelerator NYC, Complexa, Cydan, Ixchelsis, Lodo, Magnolia, Morphic Therapeutic and Petra Pharma. Pfizer has just allocated a further $500m to ventures.
Pfizer announced in June 2020 that it would invest up to $500m in biotech companies while also providing expertise, through a scheme dubbed Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative, having backed microbiome therapy developer Vedanta Biosciences’ $25m round.
In 2021, Pfizer Ventures has backed rounds for cancer treatment developer Pyxis Oncology, fibrosis drug developer Mediar Therapeutics and oncology therapy technology developer Reflexion.
The corporate exited cancer immunotherapy developer NexImmune when it floated on the Nasdaq Global Market in February 2021, following oncology therapy provider BioAtla’s listing two months before.
While Pfizer’s venture returns are undisclosed, Dalton said: “It is significant and would put us in the top quartile for most biotech VC funds”.
Options for the parent in the longer term are also important. While strategic shifts and breakthroughs in science and business models may make a portfolio company redundant, they can also result in some becoming important partners from adjacent or non-core peripherals.
Dalton, who has a PhD in microbiology and immunology from Medical College of Pennsylvania, shows no signs of changing even after winning the GCV Lifetime Achievement award in January 2019.