Annual Life Sciences Panorama: Looking Ahead 2014

I recently attended the Annual Life Sciences Panorama: Looking Ahead 2014 held at Genzyme in Cambridge, MA. The attendance was higher than I would have expected for a Thursday night – around 100 participants. The goal was to bring together Boston’s biotech scenes top innovators, investors, and executives, who are at the forefront of the local economy. An overview of biotech and life science in the past year was presented including NDAs from MA, collaboration, IPOs, individual entrepreneurs, and academic initiatives. The second part focused more on data and trends to try to anticipate the situation in the coming years. View the full list of speakers.

Highlights from the Annual Life Sciences Panorama include:

  • Genzyme, now owned by Sanofi-Aventis, is in the process of consolidating its many sites (18 initially) around Boston into a selected few. A work in progress….
  • Presentation from Laure Berliner, Market Research and Strategy Consultant, on the French-American Biotechnology Springboard (FABS) whose mission is to guide young biotech entrepreneurs in the highly specific scientific, business and cultural environment of the Boston area. How can a young European scientific entrepreneur succeed in the USA?
  • Johannes Fruehauf is a local entrepreneur who makes lab space in Cambridge affordable to (almost) everyone at Lab Central. I’ve visited the place – it’s great. I wish him great success. He’s also an active member of MassLANDER, which like FABS, has the mission to help young biotech entrepreneurs in Boston.
  • Don Seiffert, BioFlash editor, commented that the Boston Biotech sector saw more IPOs last year than ever: 14 versus 70 nationwide. Are we facing a bubble in the biotech sector right now? Don’s perspective is that although the large sums of money invested in small biotech companies may not always be justified, we are now enjoying some of the results from the human genome project, which is going to last for a while. We have new generations of drugs coming on the market (ADC, RNA), and “big data” is revolutionizing drug discovery and development. The number of drug approvals was still high in 2013 (28) – although lower that the 15 year high (39) in 2012. Many approved drugs in 2013 are seen as having high value potential. Don finished by providing good information on The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC).
  • I truly enjoyed the presentation from Jill Hillier, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs at Genzyme. She described the key development steps for Kynamor – a drug that reduces LDL-C. It is an injected antisense oligonucleotide that also inhibits APO-B synthesis.
  • Sebastien Christian, CEO of OtoSense, described his fascinating adventure in creating the company, whose mission is to provide hearing assistance devices. In doing so, OtoSense partners with Boston Children’s Hospital. Christian moved to Boston in 2013, and his company is now sponsored by NETVA .
  • Shahin Gharakhanian from UPenn gave a good overview of seeding programs in PA targeting better interactions between biotech and academic research as well as improving the outcome of tech transfer between them. Programs like Upstart and NovoBioPharma have been created to form alliances and collaboration consulting services.
  • The other side of the capital investment situation was presented by Richard Gill, Launchpad Venture Group. He emphasized the move of big pharma and big biotech companies to Boston in the past years thanks to its academic prestige and the number of high profile healthcare institutions. He cautioned that angel investment has slowly moved from investment to debt financing. The trend is toward more high value deals, more complex science, and less deals all together. In other words, financing is harder to obtain than before. As a result, it feels like a financing desert for many start-ups which now have to rely more on federal grants as well as state debt and credit. Capital investment firms focus on the best ROI. Richard provide examples of the $7M investment by Launchpad venture group, e.g, Cognoptix (Alzheimer),BHDx, Mobius (mobile CT Scan), Trutouch (Noninvasive Biometric Intoxication Detection).
  • The perspectives from Samuel Gosselin (Director Strategic Partner Management at Biogen), Peter-Paul Henze (Scientific Officer, Consulate for Germany in Boston), Felix Moesner (Consul of Switzerland in Boston), and Jean-Jacques Yarmoff (Attaché for Science and Technology, Embassy of France) on the biotech research and industry situation in their respective countries was especially interesting. I was particularly impressed by Switzerland which, despite its small size, features 146 companies, has the second biggest biotech pipeline in Europe, and two of the largest pharma companies in the world (Novartis and Roche). Switzerland is also the European nation the most invested in the USA (biotech).

It was a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues, friends, and customers, but also network with other scientists and entrepreneurs from the Boston life science community. I really enjoyed it and recommend anyone interested in the topics to attend the next event. The event calendar is posted at http://www.faccne.org/ or http://www.swissnexboston.org/. Genzyme’s auditorium was a great setting for such an event and audience – and would be an ideal location for the half-day symposiums my colleagues and I organize twice a year in Cambridge.  The next one is coming up on April 10.