Earlier this year I attended San Diego BIOCOM’s Global Life Sciences Partnering Conference held on February 1–2, 2012 at the Lodge at Torrey Pines. This two-day event featured EBD Group’s sophisticated, web-based partnering system, partneringONE® that enabled attendees to manage their onsite one-to-one partnering meetings and send and receive live meeting requests. The event brought leaders from Southern California bio-pharma companies, from emerging biotechs to leading dealmakers. Known as “Biotech Beach,” San Diego offers life science companies a progressive research environment coupled with a stunning climate.
“EBD Group’s partnering expertise was critical for creating an interactive environment at the event, and allowing our attendees to capitalize on meeting opportunities,” said Joe Panetta, President and CEO of BIOCOM. “With more than 97,000 people in Southern California working in life science research and discovery, we hope to enable biotech companies to explore desired partnering opportunities, and utilizing the partneringONE platform at this event was critical to that goal.”
The two-day event began with a panel on corporate discovery that invited discussion on the future of big pharma and pharma partnering. Pharmaceutical business development strategists on the panel were Martin Birkhofer of Strategic Transactions Group; George Golumbeski of Celgene; Brian McVeigh of GlaxoSmithKline; Tony Rosenberg of Novartis; and Greg Wiederrecht of Merck. The panel asked tough questions about the future of innovation and if there are enough targets being discovered, with a rhetorical remark thrown out to venture capitalists about sitting on their wallets. This prompted a timely and humorous reply from Andrew Schwab of 5AM Ventures: “I don’t think venture capitalists are sitting on their wallets; there’s no money in their wallets.” The discussion concluded with perspectives on the outlook of innovation moving toward rare diseases, novel targets for antibiotics, immuno-oncology, Alzheimer’s disease, biomarkers and patient selection tools, and the need to translate what is happening in genomics to therapeutics.
The midday Wednesday panel continued along the path of innovation, with panelists Jerry Cobbs of Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas; Paul Laikind of Sanford | Burnham Research Institute; Teri Melese of UCSF School of Medicine; Melinda Richter of Prescience International; and Jim Schaeffer of Merck discussing innovation centers and mitigating costs across the research-to-market valley of death. In terms of a model for innovation, panelists agreed that in terms of deal structure, they are ultimately looking for commitment. “Show me the science and I’ll support it, and show me the business plan,” said Jerry Cobb. “If the program is not working, kill it.” The panelists also cited removing roadblocks as another way to make it easier for new ideas to get pushed forward by leveraging risk and getting to proof of concept sooner. “If the guys from Google had given you their business model years ago, would you have known if it was any good or not?” asked Paul Laikind. “The value is in doing your due diligence up front.”
The afternoon rounded up with a panel of venture capital companies, including Luke Envin of MPM Capital; Jennifer Friel Goldstein of Pfizer Venture Investments; Bob More of Frazier Healthcare; Andrew Schwab of 5AM Ventures; and Kurt von Emster of venBio LLC. Panelists aimed to shed light on sources of capital in corporate ventures, and agreed that creative financing and more flexible virtual models were transforming the way they do business. As funding becomes harder to find, it is not uncommon to find one to three venture capital investors as part of a syndication for a new technology. “It used to be we were building companies with the idea to take them public. I haven’t had that discussion for over five years,” said Luke Envin. “Now we are focused on building relationships.”
In general, the panelists have seen pharmaceutical companies display a willingness to step up beside transformative research ideas. “My sense is that pharmaceuticals are reaching out for innovation by casting multiple lines in the water,” said Luke Envin. The panel was summed up by Bob More who said “In general, if you want to put a dollar to work in biotech, someone’s going to let you do it.”
Thursday began with a panel on company creation led by panelists Karen Bernstein of BioCentury; Dan Burgess of Rempex; Faheem Hasnain of Receptos; Patrick Mahaffy of Clovis Oncology; and Laura Shawver of Cleave Bioscience. Discussion focused on the challenges researchers have in convincing people about their research studies, forming a company, syndicating investors and satisfying the investors’ expectations. “Sometimes it’s about showing you are persistent in the face of adversity and allowing people to give you another chance,” said Laura Shawver. “It’s how you handle yourself in a difficult situation that shows what you’re made of.” In terms of growing vibrant companies and ideas, panelists discussed the difficulties of training models for a new generation of researchers and having incentives to recruit youthful and energetic new talent. The trend of pharma investing in smaller start-up companies is expected to increase as is the return of talent from overseas due to progressive company culture and the high quality of research being done in the US. Dan Burgess jovially summed it up with his comment, “What I would say to big pharma is ‘Overpaying today will help you ensure your future tomorrow.’”
Conference attendees focused on company presentations and one-to-one partnering meetings facilitated by partneringONE until the afternoon. The closing session topic covered the latest trends in business development, with panelists Jennifer Cayer of Conatus; Kurt Graves of Intarcia Therapeutics; Polly Murphy of Pfizer; and Mark Noguchi of Roche Partnering. Mark Noguchi saw a trend in the continuing focus on what is good for the patient in delivering medicine as driving all of their partnering discussions. Polly Murphy agreed stating, “We have to consider five to ten years out, how does the patient fit into the ecosystem?” Citing 2012 as a banner year for M&A, Kurt Graves said, “I think it’s always been about the patient. Now it’s about what the payer is going to do. In 2012, there will be more deals, and more deals structured M&A for risk-sharing.”