BAR­DA looks to get the jump on next pan­dem­ic with VC arm tar­get­ing 'trans­for­ma­tive' tech

Five years af­ter Con­gress first called for it — and a year and a half af­ter a pan­dem­ic broke out — BAR­DA, the US’s top pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness agency, is launch­ing its own VC fund.

The new fund will in­vest in tech­nolo­gies that could be de­ployed against fu­ture out­breaks or oth­er pub­lic health emer­gen­cies. It fol­lows a sim­i­lar mod­el to oth­er pub­lic health VCs, such as the Gates Foun­da­tion’s fund, giv­ing cap­i­tal to ear­ly-stage com­pa­nies with promis­ing plat­form tech­nolo­gies in ex­change for as­sur­ances they use it part­ly for in­fec­tious dis­eases that might not have a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket.

Sandeep Pa­tel

Sandeep Pa­tel, di­rec­tor of BAR­DA’s di­vi­sion of Re­search, In­no­va­tion and Ven­tures, name-checked mR­NA vac­cines, a tech­nol­o­gy that was be­ing de­vel­oped in large part for can­cer be­fore Covid-19, but which an­oth­er branch of the gov­ern­ment — DARPA — in­vest­ed in as a pan­dem­ic pre­pared­ness tool.

It’s “look­ing at what’s po­ten­tial­ly trans­for­ma­tive,”  he told End­points News. “mR­NA rep­re­sent­ed a kind of new class of vac­cines. What’s the equiv­a­lent of that we can in­vest in for the fu­ture, ei­ther in vac­cines, treat­ments or di­ag­nos­tics? Or even things that cut across those ar­eas.”

Fit­ting­ly for a long-over­looked gov­ern­ment agency de­pen­dent on Con­gress for cash, the fund is for now mod­est. BAR­DA has com­mit­ted on­ly $10 mil­lion this year and $50 mil­lion over the next five years to the VC, al­though Pa­tel said that they hope to raise that up to $500 mil­lion over the next decade. He not­ed that Pres­i­dent Joe Biden’s new bud­get in­cludes $50 mil­lion for year one of the ef­fort, should it be passed.

They al­so plan to match their own in­vest­ments with pri­vate cap­i­tal. Con­gress au­tho­rized the VC fund in 2016 as part of the 21st Cen­tu­ry Cures Act, but Pa­tel said they need­ed time to fig­ure out its mod­el. Af­ter so­lic­it­ing bids in the fall, the agency an­nounced it will team with GHIC, a Gates-fund­ed non-prof­it that will look to mar­shal more con­ven­tion­al VCs to bur­nish BAR­DA’s ef­forts.

De­spite its pre-pan­dem­ic his­to­ry, the new fund fits in­to a broad­er push to de­vel­op tech­nolo­gies, in­fra­struc­ture and oth­er ca­pa­bil­i­ties to pre­vent the next pan­dem­ic, join­ing gov­ern­ment and aca­d­e­m­ic ef­forts to de­vel­op pan-vi­ral vac­cines and in­dus­try ef­forts to reimag­ine bi­o­log­ics man­u­fac­tur­ing, so any fu­ture pan­dem­ic vac­cine or treat­ment could be rapid­ly scaled.

It’s a de­par­ture from where BAR­DA has spent much of the funds in the past, when it di­rect­ed tens of mil­lions of dol­lars to get in­di­vid­ual prod­ucts — of­ten an­tibi­otics with­out an im­me­di­ate com­mer­cial mar­ket — through late-stage stud­ies.

Pa­tel said they’ll in­vest in com­pa­nies — around five to nine per year — that have clear­er com­mer­cial ap­pli­ca­tions out­side of pub­lic health emer­gen­cies, so it will be sus­tain­able with­out heavy pub­lic fund­ing and ready if a cri­sis strikes. As with oth­er non-prof­it ven­ture ef­forts, any re­turns from those in­vest­ments would be fun­neled back in­to the fund to be re-in­vest­ed. He com­pared it to In-Q-Tel, the CIA’s VC arm.

What could those tech­nolo­gies or com­pa­nies be? Pa­tel wouldn’t dive in­to too many specifics, but he threw out nee­dle-free vac­cines, which BAR­DA has al­ready mod­est­ly in­vest­ed in,  and new meth­ods for rapid­ly scal­ing man­u­fac­tur­ing — any­thing that could turned around faster for Covid-28, or what­ev­er strikes next.

“There’s a lot, there’s a long list here, we’re in the process of set­ting pri­or­i­ties,” Pa­tel said. “Clear­ly Covid-19 has showed us some lessons”

So­cial im­age: Rick Bright (Pho­to by Greg Nash / POOL / AFP) (Pho­to by GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Get­ty Im­ages)

Has the mo­ment fi­nal­ly ar­rived for val­ue-based health­care?

RBC Capital Markets’ Healthcare Technology Analyst, Sean Dodge, spotlights a new breed of tech-enabled providers who are rapidly transforming the way clinicians deliver healthcare, and explores the key question: can this accelerating revolution overturn the US healthcare system?

Key points

Tech-enabled healthcare providers are poised to help the US transition to value, not volume, as the basis for reward.
The move to value-based care has policy momentum, but is risky and complex for clinicians.
Outsourced tech specialists are emerging to provide the required expertise, while healthcare and tech are also converging through M&A.
Value-based care remains in its early stages, but the transition is accelerating and represents a huge addressable market.

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Andy Plump, Takeda R&D chief (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

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PhRMA calls for more di­verse in­fra­struc­ture up­grades to US emer­gency tri­als frame­work

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Just as pharma marketers finally make moves into TikTok, the threat of a US ban on the social media channel is now looming. Already banned on federal employee phones by an initial Congressional act, more bills and maybe bans are on the way. With rare bipartisan agreement, lawmakers have introduced legislation that would give the US president the power to ban TikTok (although not mentioned by name) and other foreign-owned technology platforms that represent a security threat to the US.

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