Three takeaways from the BIO CEO & Investor Conference
I recently spent two days camped out at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York attending theBiotechnology Industry Organization’s (BIO) CEO & Investor Conference, getting my annual dose of the biotechnology industry’s zeitgeist. Here are a few takeaways I thought worth sharing with our FasterCures friends:
- BIO released a new report on “Venture Funding of Therapeutic Innovation,” a Herculean effort to bring together data from a number of sources and provide a comprehensive look at venture funding of drug R&D from 2004 to 2013 across disease areas, phase of development, and level of innovation (i.e., novel versus drug improvement). The top-line takeaway: there are fewer new companies being funded now, but a higher level of innovation/novelty. At least one speaker, Jonathan Leff with Deerfield Management, expressed concern that fewer deals in the early stage will make for an unsustainable pipeline of late-stage assets in the future. Diseases affecting large populations in the United States, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory diseases, have seen significant declines in financing. These red flags raised relatively few alarms over the course of the two days.
- The idea of patient-centered research was on everyone’s lips. Numerous CEOs – from Paul Hastings of OncoMed to John Maraganore of Alnylam to Ian Read of Pfizer – cited the more robust and meaningful engagement of patients in the R&D process as nothing less than game-changing. Several cited the Food and Drug Administration’sPatient-Focused Drug Development initiative as groundbreaking and expressed hope that it would become a more deeply embedded part of the agency’s decision-making process. Maraganore called for a public-private partnership to better understand how to quantify and incorporate patient perspective and experience into the therapy evaluation process. FasterCures has proposed the inclusion of such a partnership in our comments to the House Energy & Commerce Committee on the 21st Century Cures discussion draft. We will work hard to ensure that whatever comes of that process, as well as the next round of Prescription Drug User Fee Act negotiations, advances the “science of patient input.”
- Concerns about reimbursement for new therapies and the impact on upstream R&D – which first escalated on our radar screen at this conference several years ago – seemed not much in evidence, surprisingly. Perhaps the favorable capital markets for biotech companies right now are engendering a bit of complacency about the fate of new products launching into a cost-constrained health system. John Milligan, CEO of Gilead (producer of Sovaldi, the hepatitis C cure that has become the poster child for this debate), rightly noted the disconnect between who pays for treatments now and who benefits from any cost savings down the road, but solutions were not in evidence. BIO is working to create more dialogue with payers and other stakeholders around these issues, but at the conference it sounded like many in the industry still think the solution is better communication about the value of new medicines (with the exception of Ron Cohen of Acorda, who continues to be a leader on this issue).
As always, the promise of exciting new science pervaded the event, with discussions about precision cancer treatment to new approaches to combat infectious diseases to cutting-edge microbiome therapies. We at FasterCures are looking forward to continuing to find ways to improve the R&D ecosystem so that promise can benefit patients faster.