Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts tagged ‘Biotech Innovation Strategy’

Yumanity logoWe recently wrote about Syros Pharmaceuticals, one of whose founders, Dr Rick Young is based at the Whitehead Institute of MIT in Cambridge MA.

Another biopharma start-up company being spun out from research done at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research is Yumanity Therapeutics.

The company recently launched with Tony Coles as CEO and Ken Rhodes as Chief Scientific Officer. Their focus is on transforming drug discovery for neurodegenerative diseases caused by protein misfolding.

The scientific founder is Dr Susan Lindquist, who spoke with Biotech Strategy Blog about her research and the Yumanity approach to drug development.

The company is committed to “improving human conditions. That’s why we call it Yumanity. The Y is for yeast, but it really is focused on humanity,” said Lindquist.

Dr Linquist started her interview by noting that as we live longer, we are more likely to get neurodegenerative diseases, starkly noting the reality of the lack of progress in drug development in this area:

“There is really, right now, nothing that we can do about them. We just do not understand how to move the needle on these and it’s really becoming an absolute crisis and it is taking a very substantial section of our healthcare budget as it is. As we continue to make better inroads against cancer and HIV and all of the other ills of mankind, it’s just going to get worse, I think. Everybody is beginning to appreciate that there is going to be an economic disaster and that we are going to ruining the next generation in a way that, at this point, is going to be tragic.”

So what is the approach Yumanity is taking, in the hope of succeeding where others have failed?

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BIO-CEO-2012-New-York-CityThe 2012 BIO CEO & Investor conference starts today in New York.

The meeting from February 13-14 is being held at the landmark Waldorf-Astoria hotel.

I’m looking forward to seeing some of the iconic hotel features such as the 1893 lobby clock originally produced for the Chicago World Fair.

With Wall Street analysts and investors in mind, the main focus of the 14th annual conference is on publicly traded biotechnology companies.

I expect that a number of the corporate presentations will be webcast, but if you are unable to be in NYC, you can follow the #BIOCEO2012 twitter conversation below:

 

As always, part of the attraction of these events is the opportunity for networking.

Rodman & Renshaw are hosting a party at the Rockefeller Center’s sunken plaza restaurant.

I hope to see you there or at one of the BIO CEO 2012 receptions.

 

Update Waldorf-Astoria Hotel 8.13 am February 13, 2012
I was all set-up with my trusty Zi8 flip camera to record a few clips of Moncef Slaoui’s fireside chat to share with blog readers, but was publicly told off by BIO staff that I could not shoot any video, despite a media registration. The head of media relations for BIO was not readily available when I asked to speak with her about this.

I’m sorry BIO but you’ve lost the plot. There’s no unpublished scientific data at this meeting, no information that is not publicly available, being webcast or being tweeted. If I’m not welcome, I do have other things to do with my time than attend your meeting, write blog posts about, do a video report & tweet about it. #fail

Update Waldorf-Astoria Hotel 8.58 am  February 13, 2012

Waldorf-Astoria-Hotel-Lobby-ClockAfter 20 minutes I have given up waiting for a BIO media rep to talk to about the “no video” policy for this meeting.

If organizations have a specific photo/video policy for a conference they should take the trouble to communicate this beforehand, at registration or prior to a session starts. Nobody bothered to do that at BIO CEO 2012 today. That’s inept organization.

What BIO did communicate by email to those who registered for BIO CEO 2012 in advance was that:

“By registering for this meeting, attendees authorize BIO to use any photographs taken during the Conference, which may be included in promotion materials.” 

BIO could at the same time clearly have indicated any photography/video policy for media or attendees.  They didn’t.

In the absence of any specific instruction otherwise and the fact that all attendees had consented to be photographed, I had no reason to believe that video or photography was prohibited.

What’s more, I shot a video report at BIO 2011 that I am sure the folk at BIO were aware of. I received no complaints about it, and if I shot a video report before it would not be a leap of imagination to expect I might shoot another video report.

Nobody likes to be publicly humiliated or told they can’t do something in a public forum after a session has started.  I certainly didn’t enjoy that happening to me today.

As a result of my experiences at BIO CEO 2012, Biotech Strategy Blog will not be providing any publicity, promotion or coverage of any future BIO event.

I am sorry if this inconveniences any blog readers. However, on reflection, I don’t think it’s a great loss given that there’s no breaking science or clinical trial data presented at any BIO meeting and company presentations are usually webcast or otherwise publicly available.

According to a forthcoming article published in Forbes, excerpts of which appear on Matthew Herper’s blog “The Medicine Show,” big pharma should take bigger risks and outsource R&D to smaller, innovative companies.

At least that’s the philosophy of Bernard Munos, the former Lilly sales executive who has focused on the innovation problems faced by the pharmaceutical industry. According to Forbes, he believes that big pharma should “cut research and development” and “rather than do research in house, companies should close their labs and outsource the work to tiny, nimble startups that can explore bigger, crazier ideas.”

However, as Munos goes on to say in an excerpt published by Matthew Herper:

“You cannot script innovation,” Munos says. “You cannot boil it down to a code of best practices. Because it is unpredictable and the opportunities in science do not match the opportunities in markets.”

That is why Munos’ strategy of outsourcing drug discovery may not be the right one – there is no formula that you can give a vendor on how to be innovative.  Indeed, leveraging the innovation of small biotechnology companies is nothing new – isn’t that what big pharma already does with its licensing deals and alliances?

The question that comes to mind from the provocative Forbes article is whether innovation of drug development is a service like clinical trials that can be outsourced? Contract Research Organizations (CRO) are now the route by which the majority of companies conduct clinical research. They possess the efficiency and economies of scale to do what is a mundane, process driven task of setting-up, monitoring and processing data associated with a clinical trial on a global basis.  Those models works reasonably well and are now the norm.  Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) exist for everything a CRO does in what is a heavily regulated process of gathering data for regulatory submissions.

Is this the same for drug discovery? I am not so sure.  Firstly, if you outsource you have to give direction. You have to have a commercial or scientific target, and resources have to be allocated accordingly. Who decides where R&D investment should be spent? Ultimately in any outsourced venture, the company spending the money makes that decision.  So all you are doing is shifting the execution of the task, not the development of the strategy, which is where the innovation needs to take place.

Indeed, if one looks at the clinical trial service model, what has happened is that consolidation of small and medium size CRO’s continues to take place.  Small companies simply lack the resources to get the job done. I am not convinced that small is necessarily best when it comes to drug discovery.

What’s more, Munos, in the recent Science Translational Medicine (STM) commentary on innovation that he wrote with William Chin, appears to argue for a different model than the one he proposes in Forbes.  He states that:

“pharmaceutical companies cannot mitigate risk adequately by pursuing “safe” incremental innovation, instead the industry should reengage in high risk discovery research on a broad scale and only take genuine breakthroughs to the clinic.”

This is easy to say in practice, and may not be a realistic strategy when there is money and sales to be made from me-too and follow-on compounds. How many companies are going to say we are not going to continue with this business model?

According to Munos in Science Translational Medicine (STM) the options open to big pharma are to:

  • Participate more decisively in collaborative networks
  • Form precompetitive consortia and other partnerships to share costs
  • Adopt new research models such as public-private partnerships

To me, there seems to be a disconnect between what Munos says in the Forbes article and what he says in his STM commentary.  If he has a clear vision for the future of pharma innovation, he should at least be consistent.

Where I do agree with Munos is the conclusion of his STM commentary that success starts with breakthrough science. This message was also clearly stated at BIO 2011 by the panel on innovation that included GSK’s Moncef Slaoui.

Pharma R&D $ needs to be spent more wisely. In my opinion there is a role for incremental, as well as breakthrough, innovation. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Is cutting R&D and outsourcing discovery the route to success as Munos suggests in Forbes?  Only time will tell as pharma R&D retools and refocuses for the future.

ResearchBlogging.orgMunos, B., & Chin, W. (2011). How to Revive Breakthrough Innovation in the Pharmaceutical Industry Science Translational Medicine, 3 (89), 89-89 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3002273

What is innovation? Like “strategy” and “leadership” it’s a term we frequently use, something we all seek in the biotech/pharma industry, yet it’s hard to define, even harder to develop or predict.

What is the future for innovative medicines in our industry’s pipeline? was the title of a session that I attended yesterday afternoon at BIO 2011, the annual meeting of the Biotechnology Industry Association (BIO) in Washington DC.

BIO 2011 Innovation Pipeline SessionModerated by John Mendlein, the panel contained some R&D heavy weights:

  • Tom Daniel, President of Research & Early Development, Celgene
  • Charles Homcy, Venture Partner, Third Rock Ventures
  • Moncef Slaoui, Chairman R&D, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Doug Williams, Executive VP, R&D, Biogen Idec

Several people in the audience live tweeted the key messages of the speakers, and I encourage you to review them, if interested.  The take homes that I took from this session were:

Innovation can be incremental or major breakthroughs

Many people think of innovation as a major breakthrough. Well worn clichés such as “ground breaking”, “game changing” come to mind.  In pharma, I’d cite imatinib (Glivec®/Gleevec®) in CML as an example.  In the consumer world, the Dyson vacuum cleaner jumps out to me.  Something completely redesigned and made better = innovation.

However, incremental change can also be innovation if it has an impact.  Take a new drug formulation that instead of daily dosing moves it to monthly doses and in the process improves patient compliance and adherence.  That’s incremental innovation.

“Incremental versus major breakthrough” reminds me of scientific research.  Most published papers are incremental, only rarely is there a major paradigm shift and landmark study.  Only a few PhD students undertake truly novel research, instead the majority pursue incremental avenues associated with their supervisor’s interests. An oversimplification perhaps but there’s some truth to it.

Understanding science enables Innovation

Companies should focus their energies on disease mechanisms where the basic science has reached an inflection point of knowledge i.e. there is enough information for us to apply. This is why the work of research organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is so important. In an area where there is the disease knowledge emerging, you can then put together a team of people who understand the science and biology of the disease.  This does not guarantee innovation, but allows the identification of opportunities and in my view “enables innovation.”

Innovation will come from focus on molecular pathology of disease

Drug development is no longer focused on treating symptoms but on the underlying mechanism of a disease.  Medicine itself is moving in this direction with personalized medicine and drugs that target specific mutations of genes e.g crizotinib in lung cancer.  In a complex world of overlapping pathways (cancer and inflammation was the example cited), drug development innovation is going to come from understanding the molecular pathology of a disease. The terms “translational medicine” was not used in the session, but this is what comes to mind.  Understanding science is key to success.

What is the future for innovative medicines in our industry’s pipeline? The panelists didn’t actually answer this question directly, but my view is that it is promising.

White House Washington DC BIO 2011 Convention © Pieter DroppertOne of the sessions at BIO 2011 in Washington DC that I hope to make if my travel plans permit, is the Monday afternoon session on “What is the Future for Innovative Medicines in Our Industry’s Pipeline?”

The June issue of Nature Reviews “Drug Discovery” attempts to answer this question by looking back at what happened to the R&D projects involving 28,000 compounds investigated since 1990.

Fabio Pammolli and colleagues analyzed the Pharmaceutical Industry Database (PhID) maintained by the IMT (Institutions, Markets, Technologies) in Lucca, Italy.

In their Drug Discovery article entitled “The productivity crisis in pharmaceutical R&D,” they reach a number of conclusions, some of which are:

  • Output of new drugs has not matched investment in R&D
  • Therapeutic innovation has become more challenging and complex
  • Decline in R&D productivity is associated with investments in R&D areas where risk of failure is high
  • There is no evidence of any R&D productivity differences between United States and Europe.

The authors analyzed R&D investment decisions by looking at the potential pay-off for an R&D project (probability of market launch multiplied by potential market value) and the expected Probability of Success (POS) in reaching the market based on the average success rate of compounds with the same pathology.

What I found interesting in their paper was the fact that many of the therapeutic areas with the highest percentage of R&D projects had the lowest average POS e.g. cancer drugs (antineoplastic and immunomodulating agents) had the lowest POS (1.8%) and the highest share of total projects (21.77% from 1990 to 1999, increasing to 29.77% from 2000-2007).  The 1.8% average probability of success can be contrasted with 4.19% for musculoskeletal system drugs and 6.64% for dermatologicals.

The authors argue that the data shows a shift towards therapeutic markets with a lower POS. What are the reasons for this? Possible explanations include:

  • Orphan drug development incentives: legislation that provides incentives to undertake drug development for rare diseases (orphan drugs) has led to a shift towards these targets, which by definition have smaller markets.
  • Development of drugs for chronic diseases e.g. Alzheimer’s disease: Collectively these have a POS of 6.88% compared to the acute disease average POS of 8.77%.  85.80% of R&D projects from 2000-2007 were within this category.
  • More research targeting lethal diseases such as cancer and infectious disease, which have an average POS of 5.54% compared to non-lethal diseases, average POS of 9.72%.

The authors conclude from this research that:

“R&D investments tend to focus on new therapeutic targets, which are characterized by high uncertainty and difficulty, but lower post-launch competition.”

This article offers some interesting retrospective analysis, but I am concerned that they may have underestimated the market potential for many rare disease areas where market size cannot properly be quantified.

As Novartis showed with imatinib (Gleevec®/Glivec®), it is possible to build a blockbuster out of a very small, rare market (only 4,500 – 5,000 new diagnoses of CML per year in the United States), creating a new market segment and moving the leukemia from a certain death sentence to a chronic disease that can be easily managed with targeted therapy.

The focus of many biotechnology and biopharmaceutical companies on orphan drug development has been shown to be a valid strategy by Genzyme and others.  Proving you can bring a product to market and obtain some revenue is likely to stimulate more company investment rather than less.

In the run up to BIO 2011 several companies have highlighted their orphan drug strategy, including Oklahoma City based Selexys Pharmaceuticals who announced news about SelG1 in Sickle Cell Disease and Lamellar Biomedical from Glasgow with LMS-611 for Cystic Fibrosis.

I am looking forward to learning more at BIO on how industry experts view the future for innovation within the sector.  Also whether the orphan drug strategy that many biotech companies are now following will pay off given the lower probability of success in rare indications.

All in all, the 2011 BIO international convention is set to be an interesting and informative meeting.  Business cards, comfortable shoes and camera/video – I’m ready!

ResearchBlogging.orgPammolli, F., Magazzini, L., & Riccaboni, M. (2011). The productivity crisis in pharmaceutical R&D Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 10 (6), 428-438 DOI: 10.1038/nrd3405

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