Bio­science in­dus­try stake­hold­er col­lab­o­ra­tion key to ad­dress­ing in­equal­i­ty

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to senior editors Kyle Blankenship and Amber Tong.

When a glob­al pan­dem­ic hit, the bio­science in­dus­try an­swered the call for vac­cines and ther­a­pies in record time, which will save mil­lions of lives. This re­sponse was pos­si­ble be­cause of a sus­tained in­vest­ment of risk-cap­i­tal by the ven­ture cap­i­tal in­dus­try in life sci­ences com­pa­nies, peak­ing in 2020. Great sci­en­tists, vi­sion­ary lead­er­ship and high-qual­i­ty in­vestors that backed new sci­ence and bold en­tre­pre­neurs led to the in­no­v­a­tive tech­nolo­gies of BioN­Tech and Mod­er­na that con­tributed to the ini­tial Covid-19 vac­cines.

As the sec­tor right­ly basks in the glow of this year’s ac­com­plish­ments, there is a con­cur­rent re­al­i­ty to con­front. Covid-19 has fur­ther ex­posed the in­equities in so­ci­ety, dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly im­pact­ing women and mi­nori­ties. This im­bal­ance is al­so ev­i­dent in the bio­science com­mu­ni­ty, pro­vok­ing many lead­ers to act on in­equal­i­ty.

Ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists find­ing rea­sons to change

The ven­ture cap­i­tal in­dus­try, not on­ly with­in life sci­ences, has well-doc­u­ment­ed chal­lenges with di­ver­si­ty, eq­ui­ty and in­clu­sion. On­ly 2.6% of to­tal VC fund­ing in 2020 has gone to Black and Lat­inx founders, and fund­ing for fe­male founders has sunk to lev­els not seen since 2017. De­spite that, I per­ceive a grow­ing ap­petite for change. The ques­tion is – How?

In VC firms, the low at­tri­tion of in­vest­ment part­ners and the lim­it­ed ex­pan­sion of firms lim­its ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties for the many tal­ent­ed As­so­ci­ates and Prin­ci­pals that rep­re­sent the fu­ture. With no vis­i­ble route to part­ner, these em­ploy­ees seek op­por­tu­ni­ty else­where, out­side ven­ture cap­i­tal. The loss of such tal­ent re­duces the chance to in­tro­duce more di­ver­si­ty among a ven­ture firm’s part­ner ranks.

A lack of di­ver­si­ty among VCs great­ly in­flu­ences in­vest­ment de­ci­sions and cap­i­tal al­lo­ca­tion. For ex­am­ple, re­search shows how in­ter­ac­tions with in­vestors dif­fer be­tween men and women en­tre­pre­neurs (We Ask Men to Win and Women Not to Lose: Clos­ing the Gen­der Gap in Start­up Fund­ing. Kanze, Huang, Con­ley and Hig­gins). The ques­tions di­rect­ed at men ex­plore the size and mag­ni­tude of the op­por­tu­ni­ty. In con­trast, women are more like­ly to be ques­tioned about pre­ven­tion fac­tors and down-side risk.

Cre­at­ing a new com­pa­ny in life sci­ences, and grow­ing it, in­vari­ably re­lies on ven­ture fi­nance. VC firms have a strong in­flu­ence over the com­pa­ny build­ing process, in­clud­ing the com­po­si­tion of boards and se­nior man­age­ment, as well as the tal­ent and cul­ture. In­suf­fi­cient di­ver­si­ty among ven­ture in­vestors can lim­it a port­fo­lio com­pa­ny’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in the tal­ent mar­ket be­cause di­verse can­di­dates se­lect em­ploy­ers where they see them­selves rep­re­sent­ed and suc­cess­ful. Just 3% of VC in­vest­ing part­ners are racial or eth­nic mi­nori­ties and around 11% are women. This leads to an ex­ist­ing bias among VCs to­wards his­tor­i­cal suc­cess pat­terns, which has been to the detri­ment of mi­nori­ties and women.

Pri­vate com­pa­nies re­act to pub­lic mar­ket re­quire­ments

The re­cent Nas­daq pro­pos­als to the SEC on board di­ver­si­ty and dis­clo­sure, along­side new state laws and reg­u­la­tions, are forc­ing many pub­lic com­pa­nies to be­come more di­verse. Mean­while, pri­vate com­pa­nies in the bio­science sec­tor re­main strong­ly in­flu­enced by ven­ture in­vestors who many per­ceive as pas­sive re­gard­ing di­ver­si­ty and in­clu­sion.

The in­ter­play be­tween ven­ture in­vestors and port­fo­lio com­pa­nies is a source of great op­por­tu­ni­ty to ad­vance DE&I in the sec­tor. In­creas­ing di­ver­si­ty will cre­ate val­ue for all stake­hold­ers, and re­duce the fric­tion points as com­pa­nies tran­si­tion from pri­vate ven­ture own­er­ship to the pub­lic mar­kets. Chang­ing the com­po­si­tion of the board and the man­age­ment team takes time and en­er­gy and can cause a com­pa­ny to lose vi­tal mo­men­tum. Cul­ture is of­ten seed­ed ear­ly in a com­pa­ny’s life and pos­i­tive­ly ad­dress­ing cul­ture from the get-go re­duces the need for cul­tur­al cor­rec­tions as a com­pa­ny ma­tures.

The pow­er of the col­lec­tive

For small com­pa­nies, with­out the ex­per­tise and hu­man cap­i­tal, the in­tent to im­ple­ment DE&I prac­tices, tools and poli­cies of­ten fails. Prac­tices bor­rowed from large in­ter­na­tion­al com­pa­nies are not rou­tine­ly ef­fec­tive ei­ther.

The range and com­plex­i­ty of DE&I is­sues com­pa­nies need to tack­le, make the task daunt­ing and com­pli­cat­ed. In­stead of or­ga­ni­za­tions in­di­vid­u­al­ly piec­ing to­geth­er a DE&I strat­e­gy, con­stituents have an op­por­tu­ni­ty to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly and pre-com­pet­i­tive­ly to de­vel­op DE&I so­lu­tions that are de­signed for the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ments of ven­ture cap­i­tal firms and ven­ture-backed pri­vate com­pa­nies. The Bio­science & In­vestor In­clu­sion Group (BI­IG) is one such op­por­tu­ni­ty (www.bioin­clu­sion.org).

Bio­science & In­vestor In­clu­sion Group chan­nels col­lec­tive com­mu­ni­ty ac­tion; some­thing the bio­science sec­tor does well. BI­IG en­ables com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als to con­tribute their per­spec­tive or ex­pe­ri­ence to struc­tured work­ing groups ini­tial­ly pri­or­i­tiz­ing In­vestor In­ter­ac­tions; Hir­ing and On­board­ing, and Peo­ple Growth and Re­ten­tion. The DE&I so­lu­tions BI­IG de­vel­ops will be freely ac­ces­si­ble to help ad­vance and ac­cel­er­ate DE&I in the in­dus­try.

When in­vestors and en­tre­pre­neurs link arms in the face of chal­leng­ing prob­lems, they are ca­pa­ble of re­mark­able achieve­ments. This uni­ty and the open and col­lab­o­ra­tive spir­it of the bio­science com­mu­ni­ty can tack­le an­oth­er big prob­lem the sec­tor must con­front — in­equal­i­ty.

Karl Simp­son is the CEO of Lift­stream and a founder of The Bio­science & In­vestor In­clu­sion Group.

Biotech Voic­es is a con­tributed col­umn from se­lect End­points News read­ers. Read more here.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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FDA's vac­cine ad­comm unan­i­mous­ly sup­ports Mod­er­na's boost­er in same pop­u­la­tions as Pfiz­er's boost­er

The FDA’s vaccine advisory committee on Thursday voted 19-0 in support of expanding Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine EUA for booster doses for certain high-risk individuals. FDA is expected to authorize the Moderna booster shortly.

Similarly to the Pfizer booster shot, Moderna’s will likely be authorized for those older than 65, adults at high risk of severe Covid-19, and adults whose frequent institutional or occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 puts them at high risk of serious complications of Covid-19. But unlike the Pfizer adcomm, where FDA had to scramble to get the committee to vote in favor of a booster, this committee was unanimous with the Moderna shot.