Beyond The Printed Page | December 2, 2019

Tariff Wars, Politics, And Other Concerns Of 6 Biopharma CEOs For 2020 And Beyond

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL

CEO 2 OL Headshot Collage for Web Feature Image LN
Top row (L to R): Sheila Gujrathi, M.D., cofounder and CEO, Gossamer Bio, Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals, Dietrich Stephan, Ph.D., chairman, CEO and founder, NeuBase Therapeutics. Bottom row (L to R): Doug Treco, Ph.D., president, CEO and cofounder, Ra Pharma, Arthur Tzianabos, Ph.D., president and CEO, Homology Medicines, Spencer Williamson, president and CEO, Kaleo.

When putting together Life Science Leader’s 2020 annual CEO outlook article I ran into a familiar (albeit good) problem — -too much insight, too little space, a common conundrum for publications still valuing print. Fortunately, when such situations arise, we to turn to our exclusive online and increasingly popular section, Beyond The Printed Page. Here you will find 100 articles involving biopharmaceutical industry thought leaders sharing a wide variety of opinions on some very diverse topics. Thus, we felt it an appropriate place to share the thoughts of six biopharmaceutical industry CEOs weighing in on tariff wars, politics, and other industry-related concerns.

The six executive participants for this installment include:

  • Sheila Gujrathi, M.D., cofounder and CEO, Gossamer Bio
  • Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals
  • Dietrich Stephan, Ph.D., chairman, CEO and founder, NeuBase Therapeutics
  • Doug Treco, Ph.D., president, CEO and cofounder, Ra Pharma
  • Arthur Tzianabos, Ph.D., president and CEO, Homology Medicines
  • Spencer Williamson, president and CEO, Kaleo

For more biopharmaceutical industry related insights, be sure to check out Life Science Leader’s 2020 annual outlook issue (published in December).

How Do You Anticipate The U.S. China “Tariff War” And Other Moves Of “Nationalism” Impacting Biopharma In 2020 And Beyond?

Doug Treco, Ph.D., president, CEO and cofounder, Ra Pharma

Tariff wars with China and nationalistic tendencies have deteriorated U.S.-Chinese relations and have already begun to have a chilling impact on biopharma. Investment from China is under much increased scrutiny and has slowed due to U.S. national-security concerns. Individuals from China who are conducting academic research — a demographic that has greatly contributed to the success of the U.S. biopharmaceutical industry where much innovation originates — are losing their positions due to similar concerns. Overall, the current focus on limiting immigration from certain countries makes it difficult for foreign academic researchers to have confidence they will be able to enter the U.S. and accept positions or to seek industry jobs in the U.S. once they complete their graduate or post-doctoral studies. These issues will drive top foreign researchers to seek positions in other countries, including China, where efforts to attract and retain researchers are a higher priority.

Spencer Williamson, president and CEO, Kaleo

The “tariff war” is one of many issues impacting the U.S.–China relationship. Volatility within the relationship between the two countries introduces uncertainty to U.S. biopharma companies working in, or seeking, strategic partnerships with Chinese firms. As the Chinese biopharma space continues to expand, aided by many U.S.-educated scientists, there are tremendous opportunities for innovation and market expansion in each country. Investors in both countries see extraordinary opportunities but the risk of nationalistic moves are likely to deter stakeholders from making significant investment. Further, it will be interesting see if these strained relations impact the flow of scientific talent between the countries.

How Do You Anticipate The Current State Of U.S. Political Affairs Affecting Biopharma In The U.S. And Globally In 2020?

Sheila Gujrathi, M.D., cofounder and CEO, Gossamer Bio

The U.S. political powers, while more divided than ever, have found common ground in the derision of bad actors within the pharmaceutical and healthcare industry. Sadly, inflated prices and unscrupulous behavior have cast a dark shadow on an industry where most participants are battling, often with great success, to improve the lives of patients and their families. While it is impossible to predict the outcomes of future legislation and policy, given the current general political turmoil, the industry must fight for actions that do not curtail innovation and investment in novel therapies and approaches, while understanding that the burden of the healthcare system and cost of care in the United States cannot continue to rise, otherwise more punitive action will be inevitable.

Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals

I imagine it feels to many that we are living in unique times when it comes to our political discourse. I, however, see it as more of the same. For one reason or another, over the years, gridlock has been the output of our political system. Most political achievements that we celebrate are at best incremental, usually bring unintended and/or unrelated consequences, and often inspire people with opposing views to make it their mission to change what has been changed. When reading the Wall Street Journal’s article celebrating its coverage over 130 years of history, I was struck by how many excerpts read like topics of 2019, when in fact, they were articles from decades earlier. Although the U.S. healthcare system could be viewed as just a hot political topic with two distinctly party-driven proposed solutions, I believe improvements to our healthcare system is a bipartisan challenge we must solve, as costs continue to rise while quality continues to be questioned. Our litigious society has healthcare providers ordering and performing procedures and tests that add cost but do not improve quality and outcomes. We must find solutions that reduce costs and improve quality, and tort reform needs to be part of the solution. As a component of this healthcare system, biopharma must participate in helping to find desperately needed solutions. Due to continued political rhetoric about drug pricing and corporate greed, we as an industry are not without risk. If we allow the continued rhetoric to overshadow the value biopharma brings to society, it could potentially hinder our ability to bring life-altering medicines to people.

What Is Your Biggest Biopharma-Related Concern?

Gujrathi, Gossamer Bio

In this challenging industry where there is a higher rate of attrition in drug discovery and development, there is a natural tendency for large and small life sciences companies to become more risk adverse, which can hamper innovation and new ways of developing drugs. Biopharma has a tendency to focus on proven mechanisms and development paths. Human and financial capital is then focused on what is known, ignoring less-served therapeutic areas, mechanisms, or development paths. As a result, new generations of innovation never get funded. This creates an environment where there is significant overlap in the therapeutic areas and targets of biopharma. And while this approach can minimize the external image of failure, it also can leave many patient populations wanting.

New therapeutic approaches focusing on underserved groups not only enhance potential opportunity, but also in a setting where regulatory agencies are increasingly working with industry to find solutions, companies have better ability to define their own clinical path, especially for underserved populations. We need participants in the industry to encourage taking smart risks in new areas and be comfortable with potential failure as patients do not have a choice.

Dietrich Stephan, Ph.D., chairman, CEO and founder, NeuBase Therapeutics

Our lack of deep understanding into the complex functioning (and dysfunction in disease) of the human machine is my biggest concern. We as a community rely heavily on predicting how biology will respond to perturbation by various therapeutic modalities. Initially we use our existing knowledge base and then we try to use model systems to predict how a drug will perform from a safety and efficacy perspective in humans. While we have clear line of site into the root pathogenesis of monogenic orphan diseases, which are opening a new and exciting world of opportunity for those who suffer, core understanding of biology that drive common complex genetic diseases accounting for the bulk of morbidity and mortality remain largely elusive. In short, we don't understand biology well enough to fire silver bullets, and this injects time, expense, and risk into drug development. I sense we are approaching a plateau where brute force approaches may no longer be effective because we are aiming the cannons in the wrong direction.

I worry that expensive and time-consuming development programs that fail due to a poor understanding of the biology undergirding complex phenotypes, will cause industry players to shy away from certain therapeutic areas that are of the greatest need (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease). Employees of biopharma play a crucial role if we hope to drive improved efficiency and success. Approaches to drug discovery and development need to be informed by biology, and that requires new and better tools for information generation, data liquidity, interoperability, and interpretation in the precompetitive space. This will improve our ability to segment heterogeneous patient populations into (hopefully) pure molecular subgroups and target the core drivers/nodes of these subgroups. Such analysis is not trivial, and requires a unified voice from our industry to:

  • continue to drive public sector funding of basic science
  • assist in creating incentives for those researchers doing basic mechanistic insight work so we can encourage the best and brightest to focus in this area
  • supplement new knowledge generation through public-private partnerships to invest in technology development and application.

“Going slow to go fast” in silico should improve efficiency and success rates for the diseases of our age.

What Will The Global Biopharma Industry Look Like In 2030 And Why?

Arthur Tzianabos, Ph.D., president and CEO, Homology Medicines

I expect we will have a better understanding of the biology of complex diseases, which will drive a new set of “one-and-done” cell and gene therapies. There have been advances in oncology targets that were previously considered some of the most difficult to treat, including lung and pancreatic cancers. The scientific community has already begun to characterize the key drivers of disease, and we are seeing the results of that basic and important research come to fruition. These findings will be aided by AI and data capture to further drug development for previously intractable diseases like Alzheimer’s, among others.