FABS – The 2018 Life Sciences Panorama

The 2018 Life Sciences Panorama

The 6th New England Life Sciences Panorama took place on March, 2018 in Cambridge. The event focused on the recent innovations and new trends in life sciences, and gathered 150 + participants.

In the first panel The Changing Landscape in Biotech Funding, the focus were the trends of incubators (both VC and industry), external R&D, strategic versus institutional, and how start-ups are getting funded.

In the second panel, The Impact of Digital Health on Pharma’s/Biotech’s Drug Development, we focused on steps taken by big companies to integrate digital health, the impact seen to dates and expected in the future and the preparedness/ advice for early stage companies/startups.

Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Dennis Kasper was the keynote speaker and presented The gut microbiome: a treasure trove of potentially new therapeutics.

Panel 1 : The Changing Landscape of Biotech Funding

Panel 2 : Impact of Digital Health on Pharma’s/Biotech’s drug development practices


Monique Yoakim-Turk, Ph.D, Technology Transfer, Partner of the Boston Children’s Hospital Technology Development Fund

Strategic Digital Health initiatives were started in pharma a few years ago mainly at the request of non-pharma board members who felt that pharma should follow other industries in applying DH to its business  practice (both Jeremy and Heather’s positions are a couple years old).

​Pharma is still trying to figure out how best to integrate DH. An Area where it has been successful is as a companion to a therapeutic where an app is given to the patient to help him/her navigate their symptoms or side effects and as a result remain engaged and compliant to the treatment ( there was reference do a study done in oncology )

Clinical trial recruitment is another challenge for pharma as it is difficult to reach patients broadly and marketing approaches  have changed.  Sanofi has a partnership with Google to develop technologies to help in recruitment.  These have only been used in the US so far.  Jeremy noted that while the goal is use DH to do things better, cheaper, faster,   initially they may be better and faster but not cheaper.

Gigi Shafai, PharmD., Medical Affairs Strategy and Business Development

Dr. Dennis Kasper is a world renowned researcher in the field of the human microbiome, infectious disease, and public health.  He is the  William Ellery Channing Professor of Medicine and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Harvard Medical School
– Gut microbiome has the potential to be the source of therapeutics
– Organisms that constitute the gut microbiome are critically important for maturation of our immune system, digestion and protect our gut walls
– The organisms of the gut microbiome have co-evolved with mammals in a symbiotic relationship
– Numerous immune mediated diseases are associated with dysbiosis (alterations of the composition of the gut microbiome)
– A number of approaches are in development to utilize the microbiome for therapeutics; these include live biotherapeutic products, consortia, fecal transplants, genetically engineered bacteria, prebiotics, and molecules
– Bacteroides fragilis is a gut commensal organism and the most well characterized organism whose role has been characterized in over 100 scientific publications
– B fragilis produces an immunomodulatory molecule (PSA) that is protective in animal models of IBD and MS and this molecule is now being advanced into human clinical testing
– Identification of specific molecules from commensal organisms is in its infancy and it is expected that there will be numerous interesting molecules emerging in the next few years
– Pharma has become increasingly interested in the microbiome and there are >10 deals now done between pharma and microbiome companies

Cecile Pastel Levy, MD, Medical Affairs & Communication
Laure Berliner, PharmD., MBA , 
Marketing, FABS Chair

Raising the large necessary capital from angels is becoming increasingly difficult.Research is now being financed by parallel models such as external investment and ‘Build-to-sell’ template with the incubation taking place in -house at the Venture capital.

The ‘build to buy’ model is now common with VCs. They have become company creation shops where they lock in a partner at the very start thus decreasing financing and risks. The same CEOs are running the companies, so essentially it is a ‘closed circle’ hard to break into.

VCs are making 2 types of investments: spin- outs (pharma) and Phase 2.
The bigger funds allow VCs to make bigger bets in technologies that will require longer time and more capital to major inflection points, but worth the risk, If they’re right it is a big win. Presently,there are lots of capital, new funds, and high tolerance for risk.

The gold rule: ‘a good entrepreneur’ (with drug development experience) is easier to fund than a good scientist’
Scientists with no business experience need to surround themselves with experienced people. ‘Hands-on’ expertise is crucial as start-ups have restricted resources and scientific execution is done with highly skilled managers .The team is as important as the technology to raise fund. The job of the CEO is to repeatedly pitch to investors.

If it is hard for first-time CEOs, so when do they get ‘their chance’?
Young people are still getting access to funds, with a dose of ‘luck’ involved – i.e. right place, right time.

For 1st time entrepreneurs, a good strategy might be to join a start-up and learn how it works and let the VCs get to know them.