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.

 

How to cap­i­talise on a lean launch

For start-up biotechnology companies and resource stretched pharmaceutical organisations, launching a novel product can be challenging. Lean teams can make setting a launch strategy and achieving your commercial goals seem like a colossal undertaking, but can these barriers be transformed into opportunities that work to your brand’s advantage?
We spoke to Managing Consultant Frances Hendry to find out how Blue Latitude Health partnered with a fledgling subsidiary of a pharmaceutical organisation to launch an innovative product in a
complex market.
What does the launch environment look like for this product?
FH: We started working on the product at Phase II and now we’re going into Phase III trials. There is a significant unmet need in this disease area, and everyone is excited about the launch. However, the organisation is still evolving and the team is quite small – naturally this causes a little turbulence.

Rev­o­lu­tion Med shoots for $100M+ IPO — and di­vulges some se­crets about that Warp Dri­ve buy­out

Biotech investors who like to wager on the race to the front of the KRAS market now have a new team to consider.

Revolution Medicines, which extended its reach on RAS with a deal to acquire Warp Drive Bio about 18 months ago, filed their S-1 in search of $100 million-plus. And they gave up a few secrets in the process.

The main clinical claim to fame that Revolution has centers on the SHP2 inhibitor RMC-4630, partnered with Sanofi back in the summer of 2018 — just after John Reed was named the incoming R&D chief. We already knew that the pharma giant handed over $50 million in cash plus a commitment of hundreds of millions more to align itself with Revolution as it makes a fresh foray into oncology. Now we know that Sanofi is also footing 80% of Revolution’s R&D bill on the program, while setting up a smorgasbord of $235 million in development milestones and $285 million in commercial bonuses.

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Turn­ing the cor­ner on treat­ing the root cause of sick­le cell dis­ease

Early in my career, as a medical resident, I saw first-hand the enormous challenges faced by children and adults with sickle cell disease (SCD), a genetic blood disorder that historically has lacked adequate treatment options. People living with this life-long disease are mainly those with ancestors from sub-Saharan Africa, as well as people of Hispanic, South Asian, Southern European and Middle Eastern descent. These patients suffer from devastating physical symptoms, including progressive, eventually fatal, organ damage and excruciating pain. In addition, they encounter emotional, mental and social burdens – non-physical aspects of living with SCD that also take a serious toll on patients and their caregivers.

Olivier Brandicourt, AP Images

#JPM20 ex­clu­sive: Olivi­er Brandi­court fol­lows the Big Phar­ma CEO path to pri­vate eq­ui­ty, join­ing Black­stone ahead of a mam­moth fund de­but

Nick Galakatos Blackstone

Seven months after Olivier Brandicourt’s surprise “early retirement” from Sanofi, he’s back in the game, this time taking meetings at JP Morgan to discuss his new role at Blackstone, where he’s quietly begun work with Nick Galakatos and the life sciences crew.

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Video Re­play: End­points at #JPM20 — news­mak­ers on deal­mak­ing, pric­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing

On Monday, we held our fourth annual #JPM event — and the team hit a key milestone that I’d like to share with the entire Endpoints News audience: We live-streamed the conversation and had nearly triple the number of executives watching online than we had in the sold-out crowd of 320.

For a media company on a mission to connect the biopharma world in bigger and better ways, we’re proud of how we were able to extend the reach of our franchise event. Paid subscribers were given access to the stream in real time, and now, two days later, we’re opening it up to everyone in this post.

Endpoints@JPM: (left to right) Steve Pearson, Nick Leschly, Bari Talente, Stephen Ubl, John Carroll

#JPM20: 'The NPV is al­ways wrong.' Take­da preps an­oth­er spin­out — this time on psych

Editor’s Note: Endpoints News is reporting live from #JPM20 after kicking things off with an action-packed event, which you can replay here. What follows is a stream of tidbits we have collected while wandering around Union Square in San Francisco. Check back in throughout the week for updates by John Carroll and Jason Mast.

SAN FRANCISCO — A year ago Takeda CEO Christophe Weber and R&D chief Andy Plump arrived at JP Morgan right on the heels of closing their big Shire buyout. Now they’re back after shaking up the portfolio, boosting R&D spending by about 50% to $4.5 billion and adjusting the pipeline — a task which isn’t quite finished yet.

Nick Leschly at Endpoints News' panel at the 2020 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Credit: Jeff Rumans

At #JPM20, two CEOs, two rad­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent ther­a­pies, and a fight to chase down sick­le cell

SAN FRANCISCO – Few CEOs tell a story better than bluebird’s Nick Leschly.

He cuts a Jeff Bezos figure on stage at the Colonial Room, the JP Morgan presentation hall for A-list biotechs: lean and bald, fast-talking and vest-wearing. He explains in simple language, apologizing when he has to brush on the data. It helps that he has a good story to tell.

“We treated them one time,” Leschly tells a packed crowd, gesturing to the slide behind him. “Look what happened.”

The slide shows 9 horizontal bars studded with diamonds. Each bar, he explained, represented a sickle cell patient, and each diamond represented a severe medical event, such as a pain crisis. The diamonds stud one side – before the therapy – and vanish on the other, afterward.

“A 99% reduction in these events — this is a functional cure for sickle cell disease,” Leschly says. “This is unprecedented data.”

Upstairs and an hour later, Ted Love stands before a narrow conference room in his suit and polka-dot tie. Love, the CEO of Global Blood Therapeutics, is a 60-year-old physician. His voice trails off at the end of sentences, and the story he tells is less compelling. There are no cured patients.

“This is the first drug that addresses the root cause of sickle cell disease,” Love says, speaking in front of a slide showing a white pill bottle for GBT’s new drug Oxbryta. “Right in the label, it says that this drug inhibits polymerization.”

In the 60 years after scientists discovered the cause of sickle cell, almost no treatments emerged, even as the condition debilitated hundreds of thousands of Americans, most of them black or Hispanic. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest as new technologies have made the disease seem newly beatable.

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Neon Ther­a­peu­tics makes one last re­treat, sell­ing it­self cheap in a bar­gain base­ment M&A deal

Crushed by weak data for what had been their lead drug, Neon Therapeutics is being bought for parts this morning.

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Mark Pruzanski

#JPM20: Af­ter a year of NASH col­laps­es, all eyes on two biotechs

SAN FRANCISCO – It’s not quite Dewey defeats Truman, but Goldman Sachs calling 2019 “The Year of NASH” may well go down in the annals of worst biotech predictions.

Goldman Sachs slapped the label on weeks before 2019’s JP Morgan conference, projecting that long-discussed treatments for the obesity-driven condition suspected to lurk in millions of Americans would begin to bear fruit and investors would move accordingly. That did not quite happen.

“If you look at 2019, it was just a string of disappointing news,” Pascal Prigent, CEO of NASH-focused biotech Genfit, told Endpoints News in an interview.

The Year of NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, became a year of NASH failures. Gilead failed two large Phase III trials. CymaBay went from a $1 billion company to a $100 million company after they found their drug was killing patients’ liver cells. Cirius withdrew an $86 million IPO bid after a disastrous readout. Industry-wide, there were few acqusitions in a market often projected to be worth $35 billion.

Gilead, after dominating the NASH discussion at the 2019 JPM, gave one quick mention to the program in their 2020 presentation before pivoting to other drugs.

“As promising as some of the mechanisms looked in earlier stages, when push comes to shove in large study settings, they just haven’t proven out,” Mark Pruzanski, CEO of the NASH-focused biotech Intercept, told Endpoints in an interview.

As biotech turns from 2019, the failures have refocused eyes away from Gilead and back toward two startups, both facing key events in the coming months: Intercept, which first alerted investors to NASH at JPM 2014, and the France-based Genfit.

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