Inception 3, Inc.

Background Information

Inception 3 is an effort to bring together a leading academic in the field of hearing loss with a major pharmaceutical company (Roche). It was incubated within Versant under the leadership of Clare Ozawa, then an investment professional at the firm. Stefan Heller, professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine, is a pioneer in the field. His research focuses on finding strategies to restore the inner ear sensory cells that detect sound (called hair cells) that are required for hearing. Dr. Heller discovered the presence of cells in the inner ear of mammals that can differentiate into hair cells. He and other researchers have also developed the concept that drug compounds could regenerate hair cells in the damaged cochlea, restoring hearing in patients. The Inception and Versant teams recognized the potential for such a therapy and the value to be unleashed by a strong pharmaceutical company delivering a hearing loss product to patients.

The Opportunity

Hearing impairment is a major global health issue with profound societal and economic impact affecting over 275 million people world-wide. The occurrence of sensorineural hearing loss is rapidly rising, due to increasing noise exposure and aging populations. With no approved pharmaceutical therapies, the unmet medical need is very high. These attributes in addition to a multi-billion dollar opportunity for drug therapy to restore hearing, and the significant advances in unraveling the biological basis of hearing that has made hearing loss drug discovery possible for the first time, made the investment very appealing.

Partnering Impact

Inception 3 provided an early mover advantage to its pharmaceutical partner in the area of hearing loss by identifying a breakthrough academic discovery. The Inception team has created a cutting edge new company in this space enabling Roche to launch an external R&D effort in a previously untapped field.

All parties benefit from the Build-to-Buy deal construct, with Inception Sciences benefiting from Roche’s funding and drug development insights; Roche gaining access to an innovative technology platform and novel drug candidates; and Versant and Inception both gaining a risk-mitigated path to liquidity. Inception 3 is being led by the management team of Inception Sciences, including CEO Peppi Prasit and COO Clare Ozawa. Versant invested Series A financing into Inception 3 as part of the deal, with Roche contributing the remaining funding into the program. Roche retains an exclusive option to acquire Inception 3 at pre-set terms upon a first lead compound reaching the filing stage of an investigational new drug (IND) application.


The collaboration continues to progress exceedingly well. As part of the pre-negotiated exit deal, Roche has an option to acquire Inception 3 at pre-set terms upon a first lead compound reaching the filing stage of an investigational new drug (IND) application.