The top 25: William Taranto, founder and president, Merck Global Health Innovation

Bill Taranto is the founder and president of pharmaceutical group Merck & Co’s Global Health Innovation Fund (GHI) and oversees all areas of investing, having come from over three decades of healthcare industry experience – 20 years of which involved healthcare investing.

Taranto helped start the GHI vehicle a decade ago, noting in an interview: “When we first launched, the goal was to provide Merck optionality around M&A as they looked to enter new businesses. Though this remit is still there, we have begun to focus the portfolio and investing in companies that have a more direct and immediate impact on our core business.

“If they can be standalone and provide optionality or revenue, then that is a bonus. One of the rewards of this change, as Merck has focused on oncology, is that we have done several investments in this space which have a real impact on patients’ lives and the health ecosystem.”

The Global Health Innovation Fund (GHI) under his leadership grew quickly to a $500m pool and in 2014 added a $700m private equity fund to help support roll-ups and later-stage deals.

“The GHI fund had a number of key events in 2019,” Taranto told GCV. “We have evergreened our $500m fund for the second time in 10 years.”

In addition, the fund had multiple exits: Merck had been an early investor in health management technology developer Livongo and was able to exit with the largest digital health initial public offering – sized at more than $355m – in July 2019.

Merck GHI also exited medical record management software provider eHealth Technologies, healthcare engagement service provider Aptus Health, infectious disease decision support platform Ilúm, weight management program developer HMR and employee wellness platform Staywell.

Taranto said: “From a strategy perspective, we narrowed our focus to two key areas: oncology and real-world evidence data (RWE/D). GHI created an enterprise-wide effort to lead Merck into the digital future in those spaces.

“The goal is to enhance Merck oncology DNA – data, network and access – and help us solve our use cases across our business.”

The fund has made new investments in these spaces in the past year including healthcare data technology provider Ciox Health, precision medicine provider GNS Healthcare and pathology research technology developer PathAI.

In addition, GHI completed three follow-on Investments for clinical testing access developer Antidote Technologies, genomic information company GenomeDX Biosciences and cancer care technology provider Navigating Cancer.

“We reviewed over 300 companies in the oncology and RWE/D space in 2019,” Taranto added. “Our investments covered diverse geographical areas including the US, Canada and Europe. We invested in series A, B and C rounds and had multiple co-investors.”

Apart from his venture investing experience, Taranto had spent more than a decade in operations management.

Taranto sits on the Merck Innovative Ventures Board, which identifies and funds startup companies, and is also chairman of the GHI Fund LLC Management Board.

Before joining Merck, Taranto spent nearly two decades at another pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in VC, marketing, sales and business development roles. Prior to J&J, Taranto held an eight-year stint in investment banking.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF