Six top biotech VCs take a look at the lat­est trends, and of­fer their thoughts on 2018

This year has been a rel­a­tive gush­er of VC dol­lars flow­ing in­to biotech com­pa­nies, with gi­ant “mega-deals” pro­pelling the in­dus­try’s record-set­ting year. Top VCs in the field say they’re cau­tious­ly op­ti­mistic that the trend will con­tin­ue next year.

The in­dus­try has cruised past its pre­vi­ous VC fund­ing record of $7.3 bil­lion, which was set back in 2015. This year saw biotechs raise $9.3 bil­lion in 471 deals, ac­cord­ing to Pitch­Book, mak­ing it the best year out of the last sev­en when it comes to vol­ume.

Deal count is run­ning a bit low­er than 2016 and 2015, which saw clos­er to 500 deals. But 2017 was a year of mega-deals, with the third quar­ter alone bring­ing in sev­er­al $100 mil­lion+ rounds. Most re­cent­ly there was ADC Ther­a­peu­tics’ $200 mil­lion round backed by As­traZeneca to push for­ward its next-gen an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gate. And ear­li­er in the quar­ter, Jeff Be­zos, Arch and oth­er in­vestors sunk $151 mil­lion in­to Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy, which is look­ing to make new drugs that can se­lec­tive­ly sweep away senes­cent cells that clut­ter our bod­ies as we age.

All this ac­tiv­i­ty comes short­ly af­ter a some­what tur­bu­lent 2016 — a year when po­lit­i­cal and so­cial rhetoric and in­dus­try un­cer­tain­ty weighed on the sec­tor; when drug ap­provals fell sharply; and when biotech com­pa­nies faced a dwin­dling sup­ply of pub­lic mar­ket cap­i­tal to fund R&D.

Con­sid­er­ing the pip­ing hot IPO mar­ket so far this year and the record-set­ting VC fig­ures, it’s fair to say the in­dus­try took the un­cer­tain­ty rather well.

We asked 6 top ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists in biotech what they thought might hap­pen in 2018. Will ven­ture dol­lars go up, down, or stay flat next year? Why? Read their pre­dic­tions be­low:

Pre­dic­tions

Jer­el Davis

Jer­el Davis, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Ver­sant Ven­tures:

We ex­pect that 2018 will con­tin­ue to be a very strong ven­ture fund­ing en­vi­ron­ment with a con­tin­u­a­tion of fund­ing across stages, with large rounds, and in­creased com­mit­ments from new funds and cap­i­tal sources that are not the usu­al biotech sus­pects. This like­ly means ven­ture dol­lars will trend up­wards. Watch­ing pub­lic mar­ket ver­sus pri­vate val­u­a­tions through­out the year will be es­pe­cial­ly im­por­tant to en­sure the pri­vate space does not get ahead of it­self.

Wende Hut­ton

Wende Hut­ton, gen­er­al part­ner at Canaan Part­ners:

Ven­ture-backed fund­ing for bio­phar­ma deals in 2018 will be vig­or­ous and like­ly up from the high lev­els in 2017. An ir­re­sistible sup­ply of top-tier sci­ence and re­peat man­age­ment teams are bub­bling up every­where in the start­up ecosys­tem, which cre­ate at­trac­tive new op­por­tu­ni­ties for in­vest­ment. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, an un­par­al­leled lev­el of re­cent­ly-raised bio­phar­ma-fo­cused funds will need to be de­ployed in a ro­bust fash­ion dur­ing the next year. Canaan looks out and sees a great fund­ing en­vi­ron­ment for 2018.

Jay Lichter

Jay Lichter, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Aval­on Ven­tures:

I think that in­vest­ing will re­main ro­bust. There is a lot of cap­i­tal in the sys­tem with some big wins/ac­qui­si­tions and sev­er­al IPOs that pro­vid­ed liq­uid­i­ty for VCs and their in­vestors. I ex­pect the mar­kets to re­main “open” and hot while at times chop­py.

Ab­bie Cel­niker

Ab­bie Cel­niker, part­ner at Third Rock Ven­tures:

At Third Rock, we see the trend of healthy in­vest­ing con­tin­u­ing in 2018.  Con­di­tions in the macro en­vi­ron­ment place biotech in a strong po­si­tion for con­tin­ued val­ue cre­ation. In ad­di­tion, we see a tremen­dous amount of nov­el and ex­cit­ing sci­ence dri­ving both com­pa­ny cre­ation and the ad­vance­ment of new ther­a­pies mov­ing to­ward the clin­ic. Phar­ma and large biotech con­tin­ue to turn to small­er biotechs to en­hance their pipelines, and this sup­ports a very healthy ecosys­tem.

Bruce Booth

Bruce Booth, part­ner at At­las Ven­tures:

Bio­phar­ma ven­ture fund­ing in 2018 will like­ly mod­er­ate from the record-set­ting pace of 2017, but be in the ro­bust range of the last few years; in short, ac­cess to cap­i­tal won’t like­ly be a con­straint. Plen­ty of ven­ture and crossover firms have re­loaded with fresh funds, and large un­con­ven­tion­al gen­er­al­ist as­set man­agers re­main keen on in­vest­ing more in­to the promise of biotech, both pri­vate and pub­lic.

Noubar Afeyan

Noubar Afeyan, founder and CEO of Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing:

I ex­pect in­vest­ments in­to pri­vate biotech com­pa­nies to in­crease sig­nif­i­cant­ly year over year due to the strong pipeline of prod­uct-plat­form com­pa­nies emerg­ing from in­no­va­tion ef­forts in acad­e­mia, ven­ture firms and oth­er sources. Al­so ex­pect phar­ma de­pen­dence on ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion as a source of their prod­uct sup­ply to con­tin­ue in­creas­ing as they find new ways of part­ner­ing with firms like Flag­ship to cre­ate long-term sup­ply agree­ments for break­through prod­ucts. Sources of cap­i­tal fo­cus­ing on life sci­ence in­vest­ing are al­so in­creas­ing con­sid­er­ably for late stage and pub­lic in­vest­ment.

 

What Will it Take to Re­al­ize the Promise and Po­ten­tial of Im­mune Cell Ther­a­pies?

What does it take to get to the finish line with a new cancer therapy – fast? With approvals in place and hundreds of immune cell therapy candidates in the pipeline, the global industry is poised to create a fundamental shift in cancer treatments towards precision medicine. At the same time, unique challenges associated with cell and process complexity present manufacturing bottlenecks that delay speed to market and heighten cost of goods sold (COGS) — these hurdles must be overcome to make precision treatments an option for every cancer patient. This series of articles highlights some of the key manufacturing challenges associated with the production of cell-based cancer therapies as well as the solutions needed to transcend them. Automation, process knowledge, scalability, and assured supply of high-quality starting material and reagents are all critical to realizing the full potential of CAR-based therapies and sustaining the momentum achieved in recent years. The articles will highlight leading-edge technologies that incorporate these features to integrate across workflows, accelerate timelines and reduce COGS – along with how these approaches are enabling the biopharmaceutical industry to cross the finish line faster with new treatment options for patients in need.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; 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.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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President Biden and Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Chaot­ic ad­comm sees Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech boost­ers re­ject­ed for gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, but rec­om­mend­ed for old­er and high-risk pop­u­la­tions

With just days before President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 booster rollout is set to go into effect, an FDA advisory committee appeared on the verge of not recommending boosters for anyone in the US before a last-minute change of wording laid the groundwork for older adults to have access to a third dose.

The FDA’s adcomm on Vaccines and Related Biological Products (VRBPAC) roundly rejected Pfizer/BioNTech booster shots for all individuals older than 16 by a 16-2 vote Friday afternoon. Soon after, however, the agency posed committee members a new question limiting booster use to the 65-and-older population and individuals at high risk of disease due to occupational exposure or comorbidities.

As­traZeneca, Dai­ichi Sanky­o's ADC En­her­tu blows away Roche's Kad­cy­la in sec­ond-line ad­vanced breast can­cer

AstraZeneca and Japanese drugmaker Daiichi Sankyo think they’ve struck gold with their next-gen ADC drug Enhertu, which has shown some striking data in late-stage breast cancer trials and early solid tumor tests. Getting into earlier patients is now the goal, starting with Enhertu’s complete walkover of a Roche drug in second-line breast cancer revealed Saturday.

Enhertu cut the risk of disease progression or death by a whopping 72% (p=<0.0001) compared with Roche’s ADC Kadcyla in second-line unresectable and/or metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer patients who had previously undergone treatment with a Herceptin-chemo combo, according to interim data from the Phase III DESTINY-Breast03 head-to-head study presented at this weekend’s #ESMO21.

Merck Research Laboratories CMO Roy Baynes

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da un­corks full da­ta on lat­est ad­ju­vant win — this time in melanoma — adding bricks to ear­ly can­cer wall

In recent months, the battle for PD-(L)1 dominance has spilled over into early cancer with Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo all alone on the front lines. Keytruda now has another shell in its bandolier, and it could spell a quick approval.

Keytruda cut the risk of relapse or death by 35% over placebo (p=0.00658) in high-risk, stage 2 melanoma patients who had previously undergone surgery to remove their tumors, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-716 presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Mer­ck flesh­es out Keytru­da win in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, adding more fire­pow­er to its ear­ly can­cer push

Merck has worked hard to bring its I/O blockbuster Keytruda into earlier and earlier lines of therapy, and now the wonder drug appears poised to make a quick entry into early advanced cervical cancer.

A combination of Keytruda and chemotherapy with or without Roche’s Avastin cut the risk of death by 33% over chemo with or without Avastin (p=<0.001) in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to full data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study presented Saturday at #ESMO21.

Back-to-back piv­otal fail­ures force Ther­a­vance to lay off 270 staffers, prune R&D fo­cus

If it all went well, Q3 was supposed to be harvest time for Theravance.

Both of its lead drugs — the pan-JAK inhibitor izencitinib and blood pressure drug ampreloxetine — were slated for crucial readouts. The biotech was, as SVB Leerink analyst Geoffrey Porges put it, “entering the most important period of validation events in its history.”

Instead, izencitinib flopped a key Phase IIb trial in ulcerative colitis, putting the J&J partnership around it in jeopardy. A month later, Theravance is reporting that the Phase III trial testing ampreloxetine in symptomatic neurogenic orthostatic hypotension is also a failure, imploding the company’s entire pipeline and forcing a rethink on R&D strategy.

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Skin tu­mors in mice force Pro­tag­o­nist to halt lead pro­gram, crush­ing stock

Protagonist Therapeutics just can’t catch a break.

Six months after the Newark, CA-based biotech unveiled grand plans to launch its lead candidate for blood disorders into a Phase III trial, the FDA has slapped the program with a clinical hold. The halt — which applies to all trials involving the candidate, rusfertide — comes after skin tumors were discovered in mice treated with the drug, according to Protagonist.

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