One of the things I find most interesting about JPM and BTS is the ability to connect with so many biopharmaceutical industry executives — even at airports. On my way to San Francisco, I had a layover in Charlotte (thanks to a delayed flight). Entering a restaurant to kill some time and maybe watch a little football, I hear someone calling my name. I turn to see Geoff Glass, president of Clear Sciences. A former executive at Banner Life Sciences and Patheon, Glass and I have known each other for a few years. Informing Glass about the January issue of Life Science Leader, he’s intrigued. For the cover feature involves Joseph Papa’s efforts to turnaround Valeant Pharmaceuticals, which happens to be where Glass once served as a SVP back in the mid-2000s. As I didn’t have copies of the issue on hand, I agree to mail him one upon my return. Considering he worked for Valeant (albeit under a different CEO), I am eager to hear his feedback.
Another interesting encounter happened when leaving the Westin St. Francis for an offsite meeting. While sitting in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis, I strike up a conversation with Jim Jenson, Ph.D., who is also waiting there. Jensen is working on his startup, CytoSite Biopharma, which he thinks he can get up and running on about $10 million. But as we talk, , I soon learn that this happens to be his third startup, with the other two being Sabik Medical and Dicerna Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: DRNA). During our conversation Jenson shares some interesting entrepreneurial philosophies, and I mention that we have a column (i.e., the CEO Corner) that could be a good outlet for sharing his wisdom more broadly. Hopefully we can get Jensen to share some of his insights in the very near future.
There were other interesting random interactions, such as running into Julia Owens, CEO of Millendo Therapeutics, and R.J. Kirk, chairman and CEO of Intrexon, both of whom participated in Life Science Leader’s December Outlook issue. But one of the more intriguing experiences took place at the Biotech Showcase. Grabbing a quick breakfast, I sit down at a table occupied by Dave Shanahan, president of partnerships for HealthBeacon, a medication-adherence technology company based in Dublin, Ireland. Shanahan gets me up to speed on the company’s first product, a smart sharps bin, as well as their current project, a tool to help automate medication compliance. According to Shanahan, there are over two billion cases of poor medication adherence each year, which costs patients and societies about $290 billion — annually! “The most expensive medication is the one not taken,” he notes. With the push by insurance companies and governments to provide better patient outcomes, it seems HealthBeacon has landed on some simple solutions that might help.
3 Companies To Watch
Companies to Watch, the brainchild of Executive Editor Wayne Koberstein, is a column spotlighting small, entrepreneurial biopharma companies developing their own products (not just a platform) with little or no press coverage to date, and offers an interesting story involving useful business lessons.
While much of my time was spent networking with executives at well-known companies, I did have the opportunity to attend a few JPM sessions of some smaller less-known companies. Of these, I found three worth keeping on your radar.
Kaleido Biosciences is a clinical-stage biotechnology company engaged in the development of novel chemistries that unlock the power of the microbiome. There are a variety of things that make this company interesting, beginning with it approaching the microbiome as a new organ system that produces grams of metabolites every day. Included in those metabolites are a lot of bioactives that interact with the human body toward either maintaining health or driving disease development. According to the company’s presenting CEO, Kaleido is utilizing an ever-expanding library of oligosaccharides (i.e., compounds closely related to products people have been consuming for millennia, and thus believed to be safe) to run early tests, thereby accelerating development timelines as the company’s future allocation decisions are being driven by human (not animal) data. But beyond the science is the company’s leadership team, which includes Mike Bonney, the former CEO who led Cubist to commercial success and eventual acquisition by Merck for $9.5 billion.
InflaRx (NASDAQ: IFRX) is working to develop new first-in-class therapeutics in the field of acute and chronic inflammation. The company’s JPM presentation was conducted by CEO and founder, Prof. Niels C. Riedemann, M.D., Ph.D., and included a lot of scientific information on the potent pro-inflammatory complement split product, C5a. One of the company’s compounds (IFX-1) is targeting hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) (also referred to as acne inversa), a long-term skin disease characterized by the occurrence of inflamed and swollen lumps, typically occurring in underarms, breasts, and genital areas. IFX-1 is already in Phase 2 for HS, as well as in late-stage Phase 1 for ANCA associated vasculitis (AAV). The company’s stock IPOed on Nov. 10, 2017, at $15/share, and has since risen to around $22/share. What excites me about this company — beyond the significant scientific expertise of its leadership team — is its focus on dermatology, an area typically more profitable, as patients often have a greater willingness to pay out of pocket (even for unproven/ineffective over-the-counter cosmeceutical remedies). If InflaRx is able to develop scientifically proven therapeutics for the areas it is targeting, I’d imagine it will be a desirable acquisition target for dermatology-focused companies.
But perhaps the company I found most intriguing was Pear Therapeutics. Founded in 2013 by Corey McCann, M.D., Ph.D. (the company’s current CEO), it became the first to obtain FDA clearance (September 2017) for a prescription digital therapeutic (i.e., reSET) to treat disease. The reSET device is a mobile medical application system containing a patient app and clinician dashboard. Using a series of incentives and rewards, the app delivers cognitive behavioral therapy that aids the user in the treatment of SUD toward increasing substance-abuse abstinence, while improving retention in outpatient therapy programs. In a multisite, unblinded 12-week clinical trial of 399 patients with substance use disorders (SUD), reSET showed a statistically significant increase in abstinence adherence for patients with alcohol, cocaine, marijuana and stimulant SUD. This past October, Pear Therapeutics received additional good news in the form of an expedited access pathway designation from the FDA for reSET-O, the company’s prescription digital therapeutic to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). With the rise in unintentional opioid overdose deaths (i.e., 37,814 in 2016) and opioid addiction in the United States reaching epidemic levels, privately held Pear Therapeutics seems well positioned for possibly meeting a very high-profile unmet medical need with a rather novel therapeutic.