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I recently returned from a few days in Boston & Cambridge, so today, in memory of the late Alastair Cooke and his Letter from America, broadcast for 58 years from 1946 to 2004, I wanted to share with you my “Letter from Boston”.

New England is the No 1 biotechnology region on the East Coast of the United States and the Boston/Cambridge area of Massachusetts is the hub.

What makes Boston/Cambridge so attractive as a biotech region?  Amongst many, I’d suggest 3 factors stand out to me:

  1. Access to World-Class Science with an Entrepreneurial Focus.  With over 50,000 students in the Boston/Cambridge area it is a city with a focus on higher education.  Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts, Massachusetts General Hospital are but a few of the many research institutions.  However, what strikes me about the researchers in Boston/Cambridge area is the entrepreneurial focus they have.  The idea of starting up a company, commercializing an innovation or finding the application of science is something a lot of people want to do.  This entrepreneurial focus is key to the success of industry/academic colloboration in the area.
  2. Critical Mass of Industry infrastructure. There’s a range of companies in the Boston/Cambridge area. From start-ups such as Blueprint Medicines to more established companies such as Ariad, Vertex and Millennium-Takeda, what Boston/Cambridge offers is a critical mass of talent and people. Those working in the area have sufficient opportunities to move to new companies and positions, that it’s not a major career risk to move to the area.  There’s also a lot of early stage infrastructure such as the Novartis Institute of Biomedical Research that bridges the gap between basic research and early stage commercial development.
  3. Geographic Location. Finally, what stands out for me is the excellent location that Boston has. You can easily reach New York’s investors and analysts, Washington Policy Makers or New Jersey big pharma without too much difficulty. At the same time, Boston is easily accessible for European companies, and the travel time to London can be less than going to the West Coast.

Pfizer recently announced further R&D investment in the Longwood Medical area, Harvard are building a new science campus in Allston and Vertex recently broke ground on a new headquarters in the South Boston innovation district.

For biotechnology companies at all stages of development there are a lot of opportunities in the Boston/Cambridge area.

I am off to Washington DC tomorrow for the annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA).

If you are not able to attend, then you can follow the Twitter coverage on Pharma Strategy Blog where Sally Church (@MaverickNY) will be aggregating the tweets.  The conference hashtag is #AUA2011.  I also expect to be live-tweeting from the conference.

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Like many medical conferences in the United States, the AUA meeting kicks off with independent continuing medical education (CME) satellite symposia on topics of interest.

As a lawyer who has to pay for his own continuing legal education (CLE) credits, I have to confess that I am somewhat cynical that other professionals such as physicians expect to have their CME paid for through free industry-sponsored events.  These symposia are certainly not cheap to run.

However, compared with Europe, CME events in the United States are usually well-produced and fair balanced, albeit with a topical theme that obviously relates to the sponsor’s interest.

The two satellite symposia that I will be attending at AUA are Friday evening’s Amgen supported “Managing Skeletal-Related Events in Patients with Prostate Cancer” and the Saturday morning Astellas/Medivation supported “Reason for Hope: Key Advances in the Management of Castration-Resistant Prostate Cancer.”

While at Quintiles, I was lead CRA/European Project Manager for the phase III trial trial of risedronate in elderly women at risk of hip fracture, so I am interested in bone related treatments, and am looking forward to hearing more about denosumab (Xgeva®) and its impact on skeletal related events (SRE).

Oliver Sartor (Tulane) raises some excellent questions in a recent paper published in the Asian Journal of Andrology, “if a patient has a SRE, does it affect the way a patient feels, functions or survives?”

Sartor argues that a better definition of the benefit a drug has on SRE’s would be “a reduction in pain, analgesic consumption or improvement in quality of life (QoL)” instead of the current “feel, function or survive” standard.

He notes that patients with bone-metastatic castrate resistant prostate cancer (CRPC) have a limited life expectancy, so that QoL is a key issue. “An asymptomatic event linked to a future adverse event is less meaningful in a patient with metastatic CRPC.

Sartor concluded his paper by saying:

“The lack of effect of bisphosphonates or denosumab on patient-reported outcomes including QoL, pain or analgesic consumption continues to be a disappointment for this entire field.”

When we talk about a reduction in SRE’s what does this really mean for the patient?  I look forward to hearing what the expert panel at Friday evening’s symposia on this topic and hope it will be addressed.

Moving on to the other satellite symposium, supported by Medivation/Astellas, that I will be attending early on Saturday morning.  I expect this symposium will focus on new drugs in the pipeline such as MDV3011 and ARN-509 that target the androgen receptor. Hopefully they will also discuss other therapeutics, such as the recently approved abiraterone acetate (Zytiga®), as well TAK-700, which has a similar mechanism of action to abiraterone, i.e. they both inhibit CYP17 and testosterone production.

I’m looking forward to hearing what the expert panel has to say about the need to take prednisone with abiraterone, and whether there are any issues surrounding long-term usage if abiraterone ends up being used earlier in the pre-chemotherapy setting.  Updated data from the COU-AA-301 trial will be presented at AUA on Monday, and I expect a lot of interest from urologists in this.

The satellite symposia are set to be a good warm up act to the start of the main AUA meeting that runs from May 14 to 19 in Washington DC.  I’ll be writing more from the AUA 2011 over the next few days.

ResearchBlogging.orgSartor, O. (2011). Denosumab in bone-metastatic prostate cancer: known effects on skeletal-related events but unknown effects on quality of life Asian Journal of Andrology DOI: 10.1038/aja.2011.33

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