Life Sciences Innovation Hotspot

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An event has been organized in Geneva (Campus Biotech) in order to give an overview of funding opportunities in R&D in Switzerland. European as well as Swiss opportunities were explained, each time with insightful success stories and business cases.

That event combined both useful information together with relevant stories of companies having experienced the process, sometimes time-consuming but clearly worth the efforts.

Horizon 2020 was an extremely important topic during the event as Switzerland is now in a partial association framework with EC (Fact Sheet on the Status of Switzerland in Horizon 2020).

Below I summarized the key points and “take home messages” from the event in a MindMap format (much better than taking notes and reading them afterwards).

The event was organized by Inartis and BioAlps.

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MicroHealth Helps Patients Manage Chronic Illnesses

We know that chronic diseases account for the majority of health expenditures. Helping patients with digital tools improving the management of their condition is a great step forward!

Therapeutic Financing Rounds in 2015: Gene Therapy Outpaces Antibodies in Early Stage Investment

Great stats and insights on financing rounds up to now

Next Phase Newsletter

By Michael Quigley, Director of Research, LSN

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It is no secret that 2015 has been a highly active year for deal-making in the life science space.  However, what is often overlooked is exactly where in the space those deals are taking place. Life Science Nation’s financing rounds database contains detailed information on over 250 of these rounds that have taken place since January 1 of 2015. We track this data from a variety of sources however as many companies and investors chose not to disclose this information this should be viewed as a sample of the entire data set of financings. With this article will highlight what our data tells us about the rounds that have taken place thus far in 2015 for therapeutics companies around the globe.

The first cut worth examining is the types of technologies that received funding.

f1 Figure 1 | Source: LSN Financing Rounds Dataset |…

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The Venture Funding Boom In Biotech – Life Sci VC

One of my favorite blogs recently posted an excellent article on the funding boom currently taking place in the biotech sector.

I think that this article really deserves a read. Why? Because it goes deeper into the fundamentals of the industry destroying some myths about the figures, very often misunderstood by the crowd.

According to Bruce Booth, despite the gigantic amounts invested in the sector:

– it is not always VC funding;

– it is not equally distributed;

– it is not linked to an increasing number of biotech companies getting financed;

– it is not leading to an increase in the the number of new companies created.

Moreover, after this analysis, the author wonders about the current situation (overfunding?) and what would happen in the next few months when investors would switch to other sectors… Another crucial question also emerges: will the number and quality of new ventures be sufficient to refresh the current ecosystem?

 

Additional material:

Venture Capital Investing Exceeds $17 Billion For The First Time Since Q4 2000 – PWC – July 2015

Torrid pace of VC investing in H1 sets a new biotech record – FierceBiotech – July 2015

Biotech Investing Hits An All-Time High–But Is It A Bubble? – Forbes – July 2015

Biotech: The Forgotten Bubble – Barrons – July 2015

Should The Biotech Bubble Be Feared? – Bloomberg – June 2015

 

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Pager is an “Uber/Amazon for Healthcare” – Forbes

Several new innovative and internet-linked services are emerging every day.

Several years ago, Amazon was selling books online, then it became a one-stop shop for many other things; Google expanded its traditional search engine business into a variety of other activities; Apple as well as other mobile phone producers launched smartphones only few years ago.., we can go on forever with examples.

Healthcare is one of the last area reached by digitalization. But the trend is now more than settled.

Recently a new startup named Pager raised USD 14 million for making your medical appointments instant and for a flat fee during extended hours (from 8:00am to 10:00pm).

A Forbes article drew some parallel with Uber for taxi ordering:  “The service finds and verifies doctors for its network and bills you automatically over a linked credit card”. However the CEO, Gaspard de Dreuzy, compared the company with Amazon instead: “Pager is focused on delivering a broader range of care options on demand than exist today. It could be a tele-consult via phone or messaging, or an in-person visit in the home, or a referral to the right specialist. We like to think of ourselves as the Amazon for healthcare.”

The service is only currently available in New York, but the company will soon expand its operations with the funds raised.

Other companies like ZocDoc or Doctors on Demand are also facilitating life for patients or people looking for health services quickly.

Below an pic from WSJ (see the related article in the Additional material section):

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Additional material:

Startups Vie to Build an Uber for Health Care – WSJ – August 2015

The Best Digital Business Models Put Evolution Before Revolution – Harvard Business Review – January 2015

There’s Now A Seamless For When You’re Feeling Sick – Huffington Post – December 2014

9 Healthcare Tech Startups To Watch – InformationWeek Healthcare – December 2014

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Hacking the Human OS – IEEE

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A mind-blowing report from IEEE about the human body’s operating system

Can we harvest digital health data from trackers and sensors to improve our health and well-being? I summarized below what you will find on the IEEE dedicated web page. I was amazed by the variety and depth of all the innovations presented in these pages. Some of them have certainly the power to be game changers in the health care world. I’m looking forward to seeing all the advances coming to life!

Reading the Code

Several technologies are close to the market and will help us monitor our health. A very good example is the biostamps developed by John Rogers from the University of Illinois. These tiny, stretchable and skin-like sensors are able to send information and data to our smartphone alerting us whether something is happening in our body. More and more complex data could be sensed such as blood oxygen, blood glucose and even muscle weakness or sleep patterns.

Another fascinating example that could change the life of Type 1 diabetes patients is the artificial pancreas. It links “data from an implanted blood-sugar sensor to a computer, which then controls how a pump worn on the hip dribbles insulin under the skin through a pipette. In its fully realized form, the machine would take the patient out of the decision-making loop”. Advanced versions of the system are currently in clinical trials. Continuous monitoring is a huge advance in the field of disease management. It could strongly lighten the daily burden of each patient.

Another field where wearable are very popular: athletes. They are always eager to test the last innovation in the wearables arena. Physiological measurements can be extremely useful to optimize training and rest periods, improve performance and avoid injuries. Sleeves, wristbands, sensors equipped with highest technology can really make a difference in the way we monitor and track performance.

A device rapidly diagnosing any medical condition or disorder… Sounds like science fiction, right? Like in Star Trek… Some of you may recall the tricorder. And guess what? It’s about to become reality thank to a competition launched by Qualcomm. 300 teams registered, 10 finalists which are about to deliver their prototypes very soon. Once the winner has been chosen, real life clinical trials will start and we will know if it’s really working as expected. It’s a huge step forward as it will allow the diagnosis (and maybe the start of a treatment) for a lot of people, not only in US or Europe but also in emerging countries where the lack of medical infrastructure is killing human beings…

 

Analyzing the Code

Technology companies showed their interest in healthcare only recently… It’s welcomed because without technology you cannot do anything with data sets. However, some people are afraid of their data becoming public and being hacked. I think that between these two extreme opinions, we can take the good from both sides and see what this can bring us. “Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Samsung, have all launched e-health initiatives, mostly based around smartphones and wearables. Indeed, the fast-growing health care business would seem a natural next step for the tech giants”. A lot of deals have been signed between pharmaceutical companies and technology firms: Google and Novartis; IBM, Apple, Medtronic & JNJ… These are deals to follow in order to analyze the outcomes. Great initiatives could really emerge and I think we are at the beginning of a new era!

Long term analysis could help us understand in a more detailed way how we get sick, how the disease develop and how we could have anticipated it by looking at biomarkers trends.

The new era of precision medicine is making a big difference for patients. An open-source platform has transformed the way patients are being treated. Surgery is not always the best option in oncology for example and sometimes drug treatment is much more effective. A thorough and careful analysis of all the parameters will help doctors taking the right decision for the right patient at the right time.

Real-time epidemics modelling could have saved lives. Building treatment centers at the right locations, anticipating the spread of the disease (in this case, Ebola) and how to limit the contagion were several of the criteria used to run the model. We will never know what would have happen without such a model but globally we can say that modelling is critical in disease management. Additionally, it is not the use of a single model that will be helpful but the customized and accurate modelling for each and every epidemic, according to its characteristics.

 

Changing the Code

Performing surgical interventions at very small scales is becoming a reality. “Thanks to developments in microfabrication and other areas, researchers are pushing the limits on the size and capabilities of objects small enough to move through the human body”. “With the right design, researchers say, a microrobot—or a swarm of them—could deliver a highly targeted dose of drugs or radioactive seeds, clear a blood clot, perform a tissue biopsy, or even build a scaffold on which new cells could grow”. For the time being, tests have only been run in animals.

A new emerging medical field: electrical therapy. Vagus nerve stimulation has the potential to treat several conditions from migraine to asthma, even immune diseases. Progress is very slow and several failures have made history… but new startups are created and renew the interest in this type of technology.

W like Watson, the digital MD. Watson is based on machine learning: “bringing together computer scientists and clinicians to assemble a reference database, enter case studies, and ask thousands of questions. When the program makes mistakes, it self-adjusts. Researchers also evaluate the answers and manually tweak Watson’s underlying algorithms to generate better output. Here there’s a gulf between medicine as something that can be extrapolated in a straightforward manner from textbooks, journal articles, and clinical guidelines, and the much more complicated challenge of also codifying how a good doctor thinks.” Progress is under way.

 

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8 emerging technologies that could revolutionize the life sciences – Medium

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Google Ventures managing partner’s fascinating view on the next wave of innovations in life sciences

Bill Marris is a key influencer to follow in the life sciences industry, but only on Google+… On Twitter, it’s better to follow Google Ventures. Anyway… There is no need to present him.

He is a visionary for new technologies, new business models and he’s very smart when it comes to spot the next breakthrough innovation in life sciences. In this context, he wrote a captivating article on the 8 emerging technologies that could revolutionize the life sciences.

I propose a summary below but I agree it is a pure pleasure to read the entire article, so do it!

Many of the technologies that will transform healthcare already exist but have not yet been expoited at their full potential. Here is the list:

1. Artificial intelligence in healthcare – Machine learning and computer power will help drive better diagnosis and improved data analysis in order to support medical decision-making.

2. Understanding the brain – Decoding the brain is the key to find a cure for brain diseases as well as spinal cord injuries. With recent discoveries, we are at the start of a new era! Check here too!

3. Reinventing antibiotics – Widespread use as well as misuse are at the origins of the emergence of resistant bacteria. We have to really focus on this emerging threat by limiting the use of antibiotics and promoting research of new molecules. Have a look here for more!

4. Battling cancer – Amazing progress has been done over the last years and it is not finished yet! There is more to come. Additionally a real innovation will also be to make these treatments affordable for every patient.

5. Genetic repair – CRISPR, the gene-editing technique, allows the replacement and/or repair of any genetic mutation. Wow!

6. Understanding the microbiome – The 2.5kg of bacteria living on us are a treasure trove! The microbiome is an organ in itself, responsible for our health and wellbeing as well as our diseases and bad moods…

7. Organ generation – 3D cell culture and 3D bioprinting could be the solution to our ageing bodies… Spare parts…!

8. Stem cells – How to maintain the regenerative power of stem cells into adulthood?

All these fields are promising and could give hope to thousands of people in the world. More technology into healthcare for increased value is unavoidable. Let’s hope health and quality of life won’t become unaffordable.

 

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None Better than One? (A Brief Note on VC in Smaller Hubs)

The Next Element

Biotech venture funding metrics continue at historic highs, highlighting that the robust financing environment in the public markets continues to fuel the private markets as well.

 – Bruce Booth, partner Atlas Venture in Data Snapshot: Venture-Backed Biotech Financing Riding High, April 2015

Here in Madison, Wisconsin, you might not know that was true if you didn’t read the news. The equity funding environment in smaller hubs (e.g. Madison) is different that in major centers of biotech (e.g. Boston, San Francisco). There are both old and new dynamics that make building the next big thing (quickly) a significant challenge outside the coasts. Today I wanted to look at one of the old dynamics that remains true today.

When out looking for venture funding, one of the early questions a biotech company located in a smaller hub will get is about their local VC – are they in on the deal?…

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New genetic testing will be inexpensive and democratized – NYT

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New Genetic Tests Hold Promise

A new article published in the New York Times is really fascinating. A Silicon Valley start-up, Color Genomics, found a simple way to test for genetic mutations responsible for breast and ovarian cancers. They used saliva samples and full automation together with medical doctors interpreting the results for USD 250 per test, a tenth of the competitors’price. As women will be able to pay out-of-the-pocket themselves, the company will not even bother to negotiate with insurance companies. For women not able to finance the cost themselves, Color Genomics will give it for free.

It is only the starting point of a new trend. New diagnostics companies are emerging and finding new ways to deliver the same results but cheaper than the big firms. Illumina is one of the major companies understanding and capturing this trend with the launch of a low cost machine.

Another compelling example in the start-up world is Theranos, a firm able to perform a lot of lab tests on a single blood drop at very low prices; or Counsly, a company that develop low-cost genetic test for parents planning to have children.

However, some questions remain about the impact on healthcare costs, who should be tested,… Below are some recent resources bringing elements of response to these points.

Will lowering the price of genetic testing raise the cost of medical care? (Forbes Article)

What patients need to know about cancer genetic testing (American Cancer Society)

NYT Article

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Pop That Bubble: 5 Reasons Biotech Needs A Different Metaphor – Xconomy

SoapBubbleAlex Lash said that, this time, there will be a “soft landing” in biotech instead of a bubble burst… We’ll see…

“There are signs the sector is strong enough to make it a gentle correction”.

Let’s discuss his arguments.

Resilience

External pressures that would trigger a trend reversal is not present and, despite some adverse events (Sovaldi price questioning, overvaluation statement by the Federal Reserve, ExpressScript exclusive move with AbbVie in HCV), in 2014, the sector is stronger than ever.

My comment: that’s right. The biotech sector supported a lot of strain but it is maybe not over and there will still be investigations about drug pricing rationale (especially those molecules not bringing enough value for the patient and the society). Why paying for drugs that will only extend your life and not saving it?

Cancer Immunotherapy

Several immuno-oncology projects have already passed several important tests. Big drug makers are firing all cylinders by putting together big internal teams. Three products have been approved since 2011. Among them Yervoy (ipilimumab) and Keytruda (pembrolizumab).

My comment: competition is tough and the field is crowded. Some experts are doubtful about the commercial potential of this class of drugs despite very high prices. Let’s take the example of Yervoy. Yervoy dosing is 3mg/kg every 3 weeks. The average body weight for a patient in US is 80.7kg and 70.8kg in Europe leading to respective dosages of 242mg and 212mg. After a little calculation we reach prices per cycle of 21 days of USD 31’370 for the US patient and EUR 19’850 on average for a EU5 patient… with a median overall survival of 10 months. So for the whole treatment (for a patient treated during 10 months): USD 313’700 in USA and EUR 198’500 in 5EU. Is it reasonable?

Even oncologists are complaining about cancer drug prices. A growing number of patients have difficulty affording treatment and, if nothing is done, people will not be cured with the latest technology and commercial revenues as well as profitability for drug companies will not meet expectations, not covering all the R&D expenses incurred during the previous years.

More about cancer immunotherapy

The Crossovers

A different type of investor according to Alex Lash: “crossover investors—hedge funds and other public funds looking for an ownership foothold and a pole position for the IPO”. They tend to be specialists, not generalists.

My comment: according to Alex Lash, bubble fears come essentially from generalists, biotech investors that do not understand fully the technology and its potential applications. It may be the case, we will see in the future how these small companies develop their business models.

More about crossover investors

Venture is now different

The landscape is different with more selection made by investors and more maturity shown by companies. All this contributed to a healthier investment environment.

My comment: I totally agree with him, especially because as of today even big pharma have a dedicated VC arm to finance promising small companies.

Less regulatory risk

Today approval is not as difficult to obtain as before. Drugs are coming to market faster with Fast Track and Breakthrough Therapy Status. Incentives to drive development for unmet needs have been implemented such as the GAIN Act. The regulatory sky is much less cloudy…

My comment: that’s true but the challenge is next door as approval is just an official green light and it doesn’t mean that you will get reimbursed and adopted on the market. All the work has still to be done after approval (or even before as market access is prepared earlier now). 

Xconomy Article

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Google Ventures and the Search for Immortality – Bloomberg

We actually have the tools in the life sciences to achieve anything that you have the audacity to envision.”

VCThis Bloomberg article takes you through the world of Google Ventures and their vision of the future. 36% of their USD 2 billion portfolio is invested in Health & Life Sciences.

“If given the choice between making a lot of money or finding a way to make people live longer, what do you choose?”: it is the statement made by Bill Marris, president and managing partner of Google Ventures.

The Google Ventures investment history in Foundation Medicine is amazing. It created products like its Interactive Cancer Explorer, which is a kind of Google for oncologists, allowing them to do research and devise treatments for their patients. Other compelling companies where Google Ventures invested: Flatiron Health, specialized in cancer big data analysis; DNAnexus, focused on a global bank of genomic information; Transcriptic, operating robot-run small labs. And many more like: AdiMab, 23andMe.

“We aren’t trying to gain a few yards,” Maris says. “We are trying to win the game. And part of it is that it is better to live than to die.”

Bloomberg Article (including an interview with Bill Marris)

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Nature Biotech Honors Some Of 2014’s Best Academic Startups – LifeSciVC

The editors’ selections of the top startups – 11 companies to follow!

power_buttonThis year they picked 11 companies to highlight across cancer, gastrointestinal, fibrosis, pain, and rare disease areas.

By way of background, Nature Biotechnology is the most widely cited journal for biotech, ranked #1 by “impact factor”, and its editors drove the startup selection process. Their methodology involved evaluating the list of new startups that raised significant Series A rounds last year, as “substantial funding” was their view of “commercial excitement” or validation. Then they selected companies where the underlying science was derived from academic labs and was sufficiently innovative to be compelling – essentially their editors’ assessment of the most exciting science. Nature senior editor Laura DeFrancesco and her colleague Aaron Bouchie then wrote up narratives describing each of the companies.

Have a look at this wonderful blog on Lifesciences    Nature article (subscription required)

New York biotech hub is struggling – Fast Company

The Big Apple’s biotech dreams are stuck in the Petri dish

NYCThe nation’s bigger biotech hubs, like those in Boston and the Bay Area, beckon promising biotech startups with their well-bred gene pools of talent, real estate, and investors. Even as the biotech industry as a whole reaches new highs, this is an ecosystem that New York City—home base to so many other industries—has struggled to build. There’s a deep incongruity here. The city boasts nine of the country’s top medical centers, and the state ranks in the top three for National Institutes of Health awards. Read more