BIO-Europe Spring 2022: The Highlights

30/03/2022 - 13 minutes

BIO-Europe Spring is one of Europe’s biggest biotech partnering events with discussion topics ranging from platform technologies and manufacturing to biotech investments. Here are some of the key take-home reports from the proceedings, published as they happen.

BIO-Europe Spring 2022 is in full swing this week with a long lineup of online topic discussions. Labiotech.eu has teamed up with its parent company, the cloud partnering platform Inova, to deliver the top insights from the sessions.

Reports on a wide range of BIO-Europe Spring events will be added regularly, so keep an eye on this page for the latest.

Table of contents

      Partnering for successful innovation

      Author: Dylan Kissane

      Date: 28 March 2022

      The beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 kicked off a period where biotech valuations skyrocketed, the number of initial public offerings (IPOs) exploded, and capital flowed into biopharma like never before. The biotech public market has now entered a ‘bear’ phase, where the stock prices of many biotech companies are highly volatile. This development leaves life sciences innovators wondering which way to turn. 

      In the opening keynote session of BIO-Europe Spring 2022, James Sabry, Global Head of Pharma Partnering at Roche, and Nigel Sheail, Global Head of Mergers & Acquisitions and Business Development & Licensing at Novartis, made a determined pitch for innovative biotechs to collaborate with big pharma firms. 

      Sabry and Sheail said that big pharma companies continue to offer biotechs unmatched advantages in a shifting space. Beyond the obvious cash injection into biotech partners – the “least interesting thing we offer” according to Sheail – top pharma firms also bring a global presence, manufacturing capacity, quality assurance, clinical trial expertise, and cutting-edge technology platforms.  

      The pair explained the importance of building relationships long before seeking collaboration. Top pharma players are investing in new digital tools, including machine learning, to better position themselves as partners of choice. Having already improved productivity and efficiency during the Covid-19 lockdowns, pharmaceutical companies now stand prepared to return to in-person partnering with renewed vigor and deep pockets.

      Dealmaking: on trend licensing, off trend M&A, and what’s coming next

      Author: Freya Damrell

      Date: 28 March 2022

      The biopharma market is sending mixed signals to investors and dealmakers alike. Even as biotech IPOs are down 50% since 2021, recent weeks have seen multiple biotechs such as Apellis Pharmaceuticals and argenx collectively raising more than €1B ($1.1B). Despite economic and geopolitical turmoil, large pharma companies such as Bristol Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, Ipsen, and MSD remain committed to paying well for the best science. 

      Pharmaceutical firms are willing to fund excellent science and dissociate the value of a biotech’s drug program from the company’s monetary value, both during the good and bad times. Even if a biotech company ultimately aims for an exit via a merger and acquisition (M&A) deal, the biotech shouldn’t be focused on an acquisition right away. Instead, it can be better to grow relationships in the industry to find the best deal in the long run.  

      Pharma companies remain keen on making deals wherever good science is found and dealmakers today are geographically agnostic. While new founders and less-well known labs might have to work harder to gain attention than a Harvard professor with a record of spinouts, cutting-edge research and innovative technologies will always find buyers.

      How digital health technologies can support systemic change in healthcare

      Author: Rahul Ramakrishnan

      Date: 28 March 2022

      Digital health technologies and the datasets they generate are reshaping healthcare experience, notably by transforming patient interactions with physicians and drug developers.  

      The growing collection of public health data through digital apps and smart devices has the potential to improve preventive medicine. While the data is becoming increasingly abundant, healthcare professionals must still convert it into actionable insights for the patients to follow.  

      Health data is also considered essential in the drug innovation process but its practical utility varies by region and company. In some cases, the data is trapped in silos, and it remains complicated to extract the true value of the information, hampering commercialization efforts. In other cases, companies are leveraging incentives for patients to share more data, which could increase the amount of useful healthcare information available.

      With an estimated 30% of the world’s data already coming from healthcare, there is good reason to expect biopharma companies to invest in health data science in the years ahead. 

      Deciding oncology targets 

      Author: Freya Damrell

      Date: 29 March 2022

      Oncology remains the most popular therapeutic area in life science partnering; the topic was the focus of eight out of the 10 top collaboration deals of 2021. In this context, Mike Ward, Clarivate’s Global Head of Thought Leadership, moderated a session that identified the hottest oncology targets and deal trends according to scientific and business leaders from the big pharma firms Ipsen, MSD, and Pfizer. 

      Oncology themes currently catching pharma’s attention include in vivo cell reprogramming and targeted delivery of cancer drugs to their target, in addition to tools that can help uncover the biology driving cancer. Extensive drug validation in the discovery or preclinical stages is not always necessary to pique the interest of dealmakers. Instead, a drug target’s attractiveness, novelty, and potential to address an unmet future need may be enough to convince pharma firms to invest.

      Pharmaceutical companies employ diverse strategies to find oncology deals. According to Faical Miyara, Head of Global Partnering Oncology at Ipsen, the firm can prioritize the development of drugs from a new biotech partner more quickly than larger rival pharma firms with huge pipelines. He also explained that first-in-class cancer drugs drive early revenues, but best-in-class drugs offer the chance to learn from the mistakes of first-in-class therapies. There’s room for both in oncology, explained Khatereh Ahmadi, Head of Search and Evaluation at MSD. “One drug isn’t going to serve an entire market.”

      Strategies to build a competitive European biotech sector 

      Author: Dylan Kissane 

      Date: 29 March 2022

      There’s a disconnect at the heart of the European biopharma industry. The region is a global economic powerhouse and home to world-class hospitals and research universities. Yet, in recent years, only a third of new drug approvals are born from the European biotechnology ecosystem. Addressing this disconnect and overcoming the barriers to global competitiveness was the focus of a fireside chat between Claire Skentelbery, Director General at the life sciences industry group EuropaBio, and Ahmed Bouzidi, Vice President of the regulatory consulting firm ProductLife Group. 

      Skentelbery argued that Europe was proud of its broad ecosystem of biotech startups but that this was insufficient to drive real innovation. Small companies need to be able to grow, and larger companies should be encouraged to invest in the long-term development of the sector. Bouzidi proposed five axes for improvement: rewarding innovation with regulatory fast-tracking and pricing incentives; harmonizing the regulatory environment; improving access to financing; investing in biotech Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); and widening Europe’s local focus to benefit patients worldwide. 

      Public-private partnerships and conditional regulatory approvals played a key role in accelerating the development of the first Covid-19 vaccines in 2020 and 2021. Skentelbery and Bouzidi recommended adopting these strategies for other therapies to ensure patients get access faster. Investing in medium-sized biotechs and giving top pharma firms the confidence to invest in their European manufacturing and production infrastructure will also help build long-term capacity for a sector with such promise.

      How does collaboration drive Basel’s innovation and life sciences ecosystem? 

      Author: Dylan Kissane 

      Date: 29 March 2022

      The Swiss city Basel is a global hub for top pharmaceutical companies, and resident firms Novartis and Roche are at the heart of the European biopharma sector. As a result, Basel is rich in academic-industry collaborations and partnering opportunities for innovative biotechs. In this panel, representatives from Swiss academic and industrial entities explored the advantages of the Basel biopharma ecosystem and offered advice for local biotechs seeking to collaborate with large pharma companies. 

      Attracting the world’s best biotechnology expertise to Basel is not difficult. The region is rich in incubators, research institutes, and cutting-edge firms. Novartis’ Global Head Search & Evaluation, Markus Kalousek, explained that “talent likes to work with talent” and that the Basel ecosystem rewards risk-taking and the pursuit of transformational medicine. As Basel’s top pharmaceutical companies rely on sourcing external innovation for at least 50% of their development pipelines, the hub invites opportunities to advance local research and partner globally. 

      Making connections with Basel-based firms is best done online. Novartis, Roche, and others maintain partnering portals on their websites where disease area specialists can be reached. In-person partnering events and academic conferences are also rich sources for new science, whether large and industry-wide, such as BIO-Europe, or specific to a therapeutic area.

      Are platforms the new products? 

      Author: Rahul Ramakrishnan

      Date: 29 March 2022

      Product and platform companies both aim to develop novel medicines, but focus their efforts in very different ways. In the case of biopharma, product companies spend their energy on developing a drug for a specific disease, whereas platform companies typically craft technology supporting the development of drug candidates, such as computing or data analysis tools. 

      The number of platform companies focused on scientific modalities, drug discovery, and diagnostics have grown in recent years. Mounting enthusiasm over the capacity to adapt platform technology to different therapeutic areas and applications had panelists from Informa Pharma Intelligence, Insilico Medicine, Evotec, and SomaLogic asking: are platforms becoming the new products? 

      Despite their focus on the technology, platform companies must still pay attention to the product side of the industry because the performance of the product can determine the value of the platform. The panelists agreed that the future of platform companies depends on their ability to evolve and produce innovative products, in addition to embedding artificial intelligence into the platform and leveraging real-world data. Building on flagship technologies is the best strategy to invest in platforms and stay relevant in the market.  

      Companies must be also mindful when prioritizing their research spending. While focusing on product research leads directly to improvements in an existing drug, devoting resources to the platform has the potential to generate additional candidates. In general, the panelists concurred that investing in the platform would add the most value.

      Riding the multi-year boom 

      Author: Freya Damrell

      Date: 30 March 2022

      Over the past five years, the appetite for investment in the life sciences has soared. Last year, for instance, saw a spike of over €68B ($75B) in venture capital (VC) funding going to healthcare companies compared to €40B ($44.3B) in 2020. But in the current landscape of unfavorable macroeconomic winds and geopolitical turmoil, a collapse in the public markets and a dive in stock valuations have raised doubts about the ability of the biotech industry to maintain its record momentum. 

      Bonnie van Wilgenburg, Principal at the firm Monograph Capital, queried her investor peers about challenges for biotechs trying to survive, let alone thrive, and asked for advice for life science entrepreneurs in the years ahead.  

      Overall, venture capitalists seem unperturbed by the biotech market’s recent dip because there’s still a lot of science ready for translation and financing. Sylvain Sachot, Principal at Abasys, observed that “biotech is correcting [itself] after an unprecedented run-up in the number of deals.” Nevertheless, he added that the “boom is here to stay, even if we see some volatility on the public market.” Arnaud Autret, Director of Biotechnology at M Ventures, expects it will be clear if there was a bubble only later this year.  

      Supply chain roadblocks and talent scarcity haven’t pardoned the sector either. Reinhard Vogt, Venture Partner at Dynamk Capital, advises life sciences companies seeking funding to have realistic milestones rather than shooting for the moon. Emerging companies need to stay focused and not spread themselves too thin during the fundraising process. They should also anticipate potential supply chain challenges and onboard operational executives who have an international view and are effective at networking with pharma.  

      The session also highlighted the lack of a central European stock market where biotech companies can list publicly and have decent valuations like the US-based Nasdaq. While this dream will likely materialize one day, the panelists don’t expect it to arrive before 2025.

      How manufacturing relationships have transformed into a new kind of partnership 

      Author: Freya Damrell 

      Date: 31 March 2022

      In 2013, many life science companies kept manufacturing in-house, only outsourcing between 40% and 50% of their production. Over the past decade, however, there has been a shift from small molecules to new biologics and biosimilars and an explosion of smaller and mid-sized players lacking manufacturing capacities. Life science innovators quickly realized that outsourcing the end stage of a product is an efficient way to de-risk and speed up development.  

      Essentially, contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) nurture multi-billion-dollar innovations coming from pharma and biotech companies. The relationships between the different camps have become just as complex and nuanced as the science itself. 

      Kevin Sharp, Vice President and Head of Global Sales Strategic Operations at Samsung, emphasized that the diligence is deeper, and pharma now pays particular attention to getting to know the CDMO, such as understanding the manufacturing facilities. Mutual trust is critical as high portions of a pharma firm’s revenue are at stake. 

      It’s not just a buyer-seller relationship,” said Sharp. “It’s becoming more of a partnership where both parties have equal stakes in different ways.”  

      According to Christoph Winterhalter, Senior Vice President of Business Development at the manufacturer AGC Biologics, speed and agility are a CDMO’s key strengths. These firms can optimize the full potential of a manufacturing site at up to 100% of its capabilities, whereas pharma companies may only be able to produce at 50% to 60% capacity due to their narrower product focus. Operationally, CDMOs are jumping on opportunities to buy pharma facilities. Recent examples include Catalent’s purchase of a BMS plant in Italy, Lonza snatching up a Novartis location in Switzerland, and Fujifilm acquiring Biogen’s large-scale biologics site in Denmark.  

      What’s on the horizon for CDMO and pharma partnerships? The panelists highlighted the adoption of new modalities such as cell and gene therapy, mRNA, and viral vectors. Sharp pointed out that many pharma companies “don’t know which direction they’re going, so they need to build relationships early with the CDMO. It’s not easy to know which technology is going to take off.” 

      This article was produced with the help of writers from Labiotech’s parent company Inova. Check out previous editions of Inova’s Congress Reports here.

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