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The investment community must get back to financing innovation in science, said Stelios Papadopoulos, noted investment banker and biotech company builder, at the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council's ninth annual MASS Opportunities Investment Conference (MASS Opps). He said the industry can't rely on retooling failed drugs or repackaging therapies.
apadopoulos's keynote address, The Declining Role of Innovation in Biotech, followed the steady decline of initial public offerings (IPOs) for biotechnology companies with innovative science and technology at early stages of development. The investment community is now focused on product-based companies with Phase II or III data, and balanced pipelines. He cited the investor influence as the big challenge: the need to deliver faster returns.
Papadopoulos did express positive trends for biotechnology companies focusing on innovation. The most recent activity in the mergers and acquisitions front suggests that pharmaceutical companies are prepared to pay premium prices in order to acquire science-based biotech companies. "It is our collective responsibility to find ways to continue funding companies with exciting ideas," said Papadopoulos, who concluded by remarking: "The end of innovation will spell the end of biotech, and that's unacceptable".
Papadopoulos spoke before nearly 500 attendees at MASS Opps, New England's largest investor conference.
"Following last year's MASS Opps, the private presenting companies announced $198 million in new venture capital fundraising. Two companies announced IPOs totaling more than $107 million, and twelve alliances and partnerships were formed including a $1 billion licensing deal," said Massachusetts Biotechnology Council President Robert Coughlin. "Public companies presenting last year received three U.S. FDA approvals, one international approval, and nine licensing deals.
"This year we had 32 private and public companies presenting. It is essential that these growing companies meet with the same success," said Coughlin. "We hope MASS Opps will help them achieve meet their financing objectives."
Governor Deval Patrick, who spoke before Papadopoulos, said the $1 billion Life Sciences legislation now at the State House has general consensus around the principals, and asked for phone calls, letters, and expressions of interest to state leaders.
Future of Biotechnology Showcased: Nanotechnology, Mitochondria, RNA
Nanotechnology, RNA, and mitochondria research were highlighted as opportunities on the horizon. Vamsi Mootha, PhD, assistant professor of Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, said many rare and common diseases have been linked to lesions in mitochondria, better known as the powerhouses in our cells, converting oxygen and other nutrients into energy.
The breakdown of normal mitochondrial function has been linked to tumors, diabetes, deafness, blindness, heart disorders, and other diseases, Vamsi said, who is also the an assistant professor at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. No therapies currently exist to correct breakdowns in mitochondrial function. Mootha's lab is working to define how mitochondria form to better understand what occurs when normal function goes awry.
Nanomedicine's progress was detailed by Omid Farokhzad, MD, Harvard Medical School assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital's Laboratory of Nanomedicine and Biomaterials. Farokhzad's team is building targeted ligand libraries, finding ligands that bind to a target site with high specificity and affinity. In preclinical animal studies, targeted nanoparticles for prostate cancer showed tumor reduction in five out of seven mice.
The growing importance and potential power of RNA to new therapies and diagnostics was discussed by David Bartel, Whitehead Institute member and professor of biology at MIT. Bartel said there are over 400 micro RNA's in humans that are expressed in specific tissues, and that there are between 5,000 and 50,000 mRNAs per cell. Understanding the balance of mRNAs in healthy cells could lead to diagnostic tests for particular diseases. Further, by characterizing the role of the various types of mRNAs in humans, new therapies could be pursued.
Industry Funding for First Half of 2007
Biotechnology capital funding through the first half of 2007 is very strong, according to Glen Giovannetti, Global Biotechnology leader at Ernst & Young LLP, who also spoke at MASS Opps. For the first six months of 2007, we have seen $15 billion in total financings for the industry. Also, for the first half, venture capital investment is already at $3 billion, which means this will likely be a record year for venture capital financing in the biotech sector.
Lastly, we have seen strategic alliances continuing to increase, Giovannetti said.
About Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC)
The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council (MBC) is the nation's oldest biotechnology trade association. Founded in 1985, the MBC is a not-for-profit organization that represents and provides services and support for the Massachusetts biotechnology industry. The MBC is committed to advancing the development of critical new science, technology and medicines that benefit people worldwide. Representing over 500 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, research hospitals, and service organizations involved in life sciences and health care, the MBC works to advance policy and promote education, while providing member programs and events, industry information, and services.
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