Biotech Strategy Blog

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

Posts tagged ‘Biotech Marketing Strategy’

Marching Band Changing Guard LondonToday marks a year since we put up a paywall on Biotech Strategy Blog. While we were sorry to have to restrict access in this way, our decision reflects what is happening in the wider digital media arena, it’s simply not possible to go to conferences and generate quality content for free!

It was Warren Buffett who said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get” and that’s how we feel about charging for access to Premium Content on the blog.

When we put a paywall up on the blog last September, many thought it would not last. All those who bet on its early demise are still waiting 😉

What the paywall has done is create an exclusive club that have access to our insights and analysis. Other traditional media organizations are now following suit, by charging a membership fee for premium access.

There is a wealth of free data on the Internet, and lots of media folk do a good job of sharing or curating this, but raw data is not intelligence, nor do they tell you anything about context or meaning. Insights also require knowledge, expertise and thought to generate.

Journalism and digital media are going through a revolution as those who create original content seek to get paid for it. We are part of that vanguard. So this post is a big thank you for all our subscribers from around the world who have supported our initiative.

Our thanks also to Tinypass, who as our technology partner, creates the paywall and administers the payment processing system. We could not have achieved the success we have had without them.

Year in Review:

Looking back at this year, we’ve covered remotely or on site 10 conferences or scientific meetings:

  • ECCO 2013 (Amsterdam)
  • AACR-EORTC-NCI Molecular Targets (Boston)
  • World Lung (Sydney)
  • ASH 2013 (New Orleans)
  • SABCS (San Antonio)
  • JPM 2014 (San Francisco)
  • ASCO GI (San Franciscso)
  • ASCO GU (San Francisco)
  • Miami Breast
  • AACR 2014 (San Diego)
  • AUA 2014 (Orlando)
  • ASCO 2014 (Chicago)

Funding from our subscribers enabled us to attend most of these meetings in person. In addition we’ve followed interesting new stories e.g. by going to Paris to interview the senior management of Cellectis about their CAR-T cell therapy.

By my calculation we’ve written approximately 120 premium content posts of the past year, so the cost per post at the current annual rate is about $10. Those who signed up for special offers got them for even less.

So thanks to everyone who has supported us over the past year, we greatly appreciate you being part of the journey with us. We look forward to welcoming new subscribers over the coming year.

For a limited time only (until end of October) we are offering a special anniversary offer where you can lock in your rate for 2 years. Just click on any post and scroll down to sign up in the box under the post.

Check it out!



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.

For those readers who would like to access Biotech Strategy Blog on their Kindle, this is a quick post to let you know it is now available on the Amazon Kindle Store for $0.99/month.  You can also continue to read it for free on the web.

Biotech-Strategy-Blog-Amazon-Kindle-StoreOf course, after Amazon takes its cut there is a (very) small royalty fee that ends up coming my way, so I have vested self-interest in promoting this.  However, it’s not something I anticipate getting rich from!

In a world of multi-channel marketing, it is good to try out new ideas that may make it easier for people to access content and information.

BioPharm America 2011 Banner

A conference I regretably will not be at, but would have like to have attended is BioPharm America 2011 – 4th International Biotechnology Partnering Conference that is taking place in Boston from today until this Friday, September 9th.

The program overview suggests that it will be an interesting meeting with sessions on personalized medicine, business development and strategy and partnering. On friday there’s a briefing on Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy: The Road to Commercialization. If like me, you are unable to attend, you can follow the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #BPA11 (nice and short!).  I noticed there’s already some excellent live tweeting from the event. I’ve added an aggregator below to make it easier to follow or catch up on the news. Just click on the play button to see the tweets:  

Although I had to leave BIO 2011 early due to illness, I did shoot some video during the time I was at the meeting, and have now put this together into a short 2 minute video that you can watch below.

This post wraps up my coverage of the 2011 BIO international convention in Washington DC. Next week, I’ll be writing more about innovative science and new products in the pipeline that have caught my attention.

A happy holiday weekend to everyone in North America.

Bevacizumab (Avastin®) should be withdrawn for metastatic breast cancer. That is the unequivocal recommendation of the Oncology Drugs Advisory Committee (ODAC) yesterday.

Despite the passionate patient advocacy in favor of continued approval, withdrawal is the right decision and it is hard to see the FDA overruling ODAC, given the safety issues such as bowel perforations and relative lack of efficacy.  The patient advocacy at this week’s public hearing was fundamentally biased, those who died early and who received no treatment benefit are not alive to stand up and share their experiences.

The bottom line is that Genentech were unable to identify the sub-set of patients who might benefit from the drug.  They simply did not have the data, and the reality is that treating all potential HER2- patients in the hope of finding the few who might respond is not a rational drug development or marketing strategy, especially when those that don’t respond may do worse on the drug.

Personalized medicine requires a thorough understanding of the science and molecular biology of a disease.  Pfizer recently showed an excellent example of this with crizotinib that targets ALK mutations in non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

It is disappointing that a scientifically orientated company such as Genentech would continue to try and push Avastin in Breast Cancer when the data is clearly unconvincing to ODAC.   But, if we look at how Genentech approached the Lucentis v Off-label Avastin issue in AMD, with a 40x higher cost for using Lucentis, then what we see is that commercial decisions, and maximization of profit has become more important than doing what’s right for patients.

BIO 2011 Presentation Personalized Medicine Payment Sessions

This is a flawed long-term strategy in my opinion. Society cannot afford to pay for treatments that don’t work in many patients or pay for treatments that are excessively priced. We are already seeing “pay for results” being introduced in Europe, notably England and Italy where payors are reimbursing companies only for those patients that respond.

Personalized medicine is the future. This requires targeted therapies that are aimed at patients who we can predict will have a good chance of responding based on our understanding of mutations, molecular biology and biomarkers.

Avastin in metastatic breast cancer is not an example of personalized medicine and should be withdrawn from the market for this indication.

BIO 2011 Tweetup Old Dominion BrewhouseThe most enjoyable part of Day 1 of BIO 2011 for me was the unofficial tweetup at the Old Dominion Brewhouse.  Who are the people I have been interacting with on Twitter? Some have twitter handles close to their name, others like me are more cryptic. So at a tweetup it’s common to introduce yourself through the language of twitter, “I’m @3NT.”

Meeting up with someone you have had twitter conversations is like meeting up with a penpal (for those who can remember the days when we still wrote letters and didn’t have email, twitter or facebook). In many ways you already know each other and have common interests, so the conversation is easy.  Putting a name to a face is fun.

At the BIO 2011 tweetup yesterday, it was great to meet up with @IAmBiotech, @LacertaBio, @ldtimmerman, @FierceBiotech, @JKureczka, @corytromblee, @christianetrue, @InVivoBlogChris, @lisamjarvis, @jacquimiller (apologies to anyone I missed who was at the tweetup but I didn’t manage to meet).

If you want to plug into biotech social media and hear what the conversation is at BIO 2011, then the Icarus Consultants website is aggregating the hastag #BIO2011 tweets.

I look forward to following on Twitter what’s happening at BIO 2011 today, especially as there are several parallel sessions that I will not be able to attend.


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

One of the “Super Sessions” at the forthcoming 2011 Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) international convention is a presentation of the highlights of Ernst & Young’s 25th Annual Biotechnology Industry Report.

The 97 page report, available online, offers a useful summary of metrics around financing, deals and sector performance.

As the report notes, one of the key issues that biotech companies continue to face is access to funding in order to sustain innovation.  Many biotechnology executives I spoke to at the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in Chicago confirmed how difficult access to capital remained.

The E&Y report confirms this anecdotal evidence. In their report they note that the 80/20 rule that we are all familiar with applied to biotechnology funding in 2010, with 20% of US companies obtaining 82.6% of the capital!

Given this ratio, it’s not hard to see why so many small biotech companies have struggled for funds.  However, what would have been more interesting to learn about is what were the characteristics of the 20% that led them to successfully obtain more than 80% of the funding? In other words what are the learnings for emerging biotech companies seeking capital?

The report also notes that biotech’s share of available VC funding fell from 18% in 2009 to 12.2% in 2010, as VC’s invested in other market segments such as media and technology.  One only has to look at the recent market interest in LinkedIn to see that investing in web 2.0 companies is back in fashion again, although with the subsequent share price drop it might be considered to be a little akin to Tulip mania.

Another key funding point that the E&Y report picks up on, is that many VC’s now invest in tranches with milestone or contingency based payments.  The result of this “risk sharing” is a lowering of available working capital.  The consequence for biotech companies is that less upfront R&D investments can be made. Instead they may be forced to go after fewer indications and not pursue all available opportunities.

Ernst & Young also interviewed several biotech CEOs about how they planned to sustain innovation, and two strategies emerged:

  • Prove that what you are doing benefits patient outcome
  • Do more with less i.e. improve efficiency

They are not mutually exclusive, and as the report points out, these are the challenges faced by all life science companies.

It will be interesting to see at BIO 2011 how industry executives view the current state of the biotechnology industry and how innovation can be sustained.

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