Beyond The Printed Page | December 2, 2019

What Should Biopharma Employees Be Paying Close Attention To In 2020 & Beyond?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

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

CEO 1 OL Headshot Collage for Web Feature Image LN
Top row (L to R): Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals, Yutaka Niihara, M.D., CEO and chairman, Emmaus Life Sciences, Gaurav, Shah, M.D., president and CEO, Rocket Pharma. Bottom row (L to R): 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.

This year I took a different approach to building the CEO outlook article appearing in Life Science Leader’s annual outlook issue (published in December). For example, I asked biopharma CEOs to share their thoughts regarding what issues and trends they believe industry employees should be paying close attention to in 2020 and beyond. Just one problem: I couldn’t shoehorn in all of the great insights into the limited space of our annual print publication. Well, I suppose we could have tried, but we’d have to have used such a small font that you’d have needed a magnifying glass to read. No worries, this is but one of the reasons behind the creation of our online exclusive section, Beyond The Printed Page.

The seven executives for this latest installment include:

  • Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals
  • Yutaka Niihara, M.D., CEO and chairman, Emmaus Life Sciences
  • Gaurav, Shah, M.D., president and CEO, Rocket Pharma
  • 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


What Are The 3 Most Important Issues For Biopharma Employees In 2020?

Yutaka Niihara, M.D., CEO and chairman, Emmaus Life Sciences

Biopharma employees should focus on patient-centricity, employee well-being, and investor goals. “What can we do that is best for patients?” This is the question I ask myself every day. After this, what can be done to sustain a positive work environment? And finally, what do the investors expect? A biopharma should strive to remain engaged with patient communities in order to build trust and remain up to date on patient needs and concerns. Engaging with advocacy groups is one way to do this. Secondly, if employees are not engaged and supportive, a company will not thrive. Positive teamwork and collaboration are strong motivators required for a company’s ultimate success. Additionally, financial stability ensures that a company can continue to move forward. Employees should pay attention to and work with, but not be controlled by, the needs and expectations of investors.

Spencer Williamson, president and CEO, Kaleo

Three items we are following closely are the rise of the consumer in healthcare, biopharma pricing legislation along with payer’s response, and creative models for reimbursement of products providing differentiated clinical value. As the cost of healthcare continues to increase, consumers (patients) are increasingly more responsible for their own healthcare. It is logical to hold patients more accountable for their role in their healthcare, but for this to be effective, patients need to be more empowered to make the right healthcare decisions and have access to affordable treatments. Pricing legislation needs to take the rise of the consumer into account. Payers too have a role to play in ensuring that patients are empowered to work with their physicians to decide what is the right treatment and have affordable access to therapies. Both of these trends lead to the need for creative payment models to reimburse for differentiated therapies. The good news is that all stakeholders including payers, physicians, and patients appear to be working more closely together to make differentiated therapies accessible and affordable for patients. When this happens, everyone wins – patients have improved outcomes, and the healthcare system saves money.

What Global Macro Trend/S Would You Advocate For Biopharma Employees To Pay Particular Attention To In 2020 And Why?

Gaurav, Shah, M.D., president and CEO, Rocket Pharma

We would advocate for taking a strategic approach to drug development and thinking more about how to best help patients, rather than chasing down hypotheses that might not have much merit. While the vast majority of drug failures cannot be predicted, and the scientists and clinicians developing these candidates have every reason to believe they will work, there is a subset of drug failures that arise when leadership teams refuse to strategically assess the space and come to an understanding of what will actually work to help these patients. For example, the constant failures within the Alzheimer’s space should serve as a wake-up call that better, more targeted candidates are necessary.

What Technology Are You Paying Closest Attention To And How Do You Anticipate It Impacting Biopharma In 2020 And Beyond?

Niihara, Emmaus Life Sciences

Since witnessing the plight of sickle cell disease patients during my medical training, this disease state has been my primary interest in the healthcare space. I am paying attention to a few of the sickle cell disease treatments currently being developed at the academic investigator level which are monitored closely by experts in the space. We need safe, effective, and pragmatic therapies. More specifically, safe oral therapies that do not require a lot of monitoring are needed. Taking initiative in the discovery and development of such products will help redirect biopharma to focus more on the needs of patients who are in areas where medical access is difficult.

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

The potential for AI in the area of diagnostics is enormous. The ability to use AI and deep learning algorithms for image analysis, whether histologic, radiologic, or ultrasound in origin, will transform many fields. Radiology should benefit from earlier and more accurate detection of tumors, and the use of handheld ultrasound in cardiology and other disciplines should allow faster and more informative bedside assessments. More precise characterization and segmentation of tumor types, and responsiveness to therapy, from histology images could ultimately contribute to more targeted and personalized approaches to drug therapy.

What Innovation Do You Think Has The Greatest Potential To Revolutionize The Biopharma Industry, And What Should Industry Leaders Be Doing To Prepare?

Shah, Rocket Pharma

As the scientific community continues to expand our ability to address ever more complex genetic diseases, innovation in process development and manufacturing will be the greatest improvement to supply gene therapies to a larger population of patients in the long-term.

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

We are finally at a point when technology and our understanding of disease have converged, and we have the ability to develop one-time treatments and precision medicines. These treatments will disrupt status quo by making cures possible, and they will disrupt the industry by spurring investment in newborn screening and genetic testing. Of course, payers will need to find ways to pay for these treatments that result in patient access. As an industry, we need to provide the data to show the value of these treatments, and we must advocate on behalf of the patients and families who need new options.

What U.S. Trend Will Have The Biggest Impact On Biopharma In 2020 And Beyond?

Vincent Milano, CEO, Idera Pharmaceuticals

The trend that will have the biggest impact on our industry in 2020 and beyond is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and “Big Data.” The investments and advancements in these fields broadly are likely to have a profound impact on many parts of our economy and society as a whole. Our industry will continue to explore ways to use these technologies in all aspects our businesses, from discovery, to development and regulatory, to commercial. One example is the FDA working with industry to use real world evidence (RWE) to improve and accelerate drug development. A successful evolution of the use of these technologies can have profound positive impacts on achieving our mission of bringing new medicines to patients.

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

I am intrigued by the molecular diagnostic and genome scanning companies that have finally become large enough to drive molecularly targeted trials on demand in a distributed manner. As both the molecular and phenotypic information grows, orthogonal to the scale of accessible cohorts, we should see an acceleration of more robust trials targeting the correct patient subgroups. This acceleration of recruitment and recruitment of more homogeneous cohorts who are enriched for the target of interest will assuredly inject higher efficiency and success rates into clinical development efforts.