BIOInvestor Forum: Biotechs Fight Cancer Stem Cells

The CSC workshop was a hot topic at the BIOInvestor Forum at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco on October 9, 2012,.  At the “Cancer Stem Cell Therapy—Real or Just Hype?” workshop moderated by Nathan Sadeghi-Nejad, Contributor at Forbes & TheStreet, panelists talked about the difficulty of developing therapies for cancer stem cells (CSCs).

CSCs Can Evolve to Resist Chemo

John Lewicki, Executive Vice President and CSO, at OncoMed Pharma. Inc. said, “CSCs can resist attacks easily. They are fundamentally resistant to chemotherapy.  At OncoMed, we are trying to reduce that resistance with our antibodies by having multiple approaches.”  “Early on, we have seen data that is impressive with unique results.  We managed to control extremely aggressive ovarian cancer,” said Lewicki.

Tom Cirrito, VP of Research and Development, at Stemline Therapeutics, talked about the company’s SL-401 lead compound, for treating advanced acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). Cirrito said, “We’ve treated 76 patients with a large body of preclinical evidence.”

Leslie Crews, Project Scientist, at Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine/UC San Diego Cancer Center said, “We need to distinguish between tumor bulk and CSCs.  We also need a combination of strategies. These are evolving targets.  Cells evolve and evade therapies.  We should introduce CSC therapies later.”

New Biotech VC Investing Model Emerging

It appears that a new biotech investing model is emerging and may play out through 2013.

On October 9, 2012, I attended the BIOInvestor Forum at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. At the Plenary Session “It Takes A Village: The New Pharma-VC Model for Biotech Investing,” moderator Alan Eisenberg said, “Thirty-nine percent of VCs reported decreased HealthCare investment in the past three years.”  This sector has continually underperformed.  In addition, there were only 16 early round financings.

Will Biotechs Play a Kind of VC “Hunger Games”  to  Survive?

One panelist believes that 2013 will be like the “Hunger Games.”  “Companies need to change how things are done to survive,” said De Rubertis. According to Brian McVeigh, Vice President of Worldwide Business Development Transactions and Investment Management, at GSK Pharma, “This is a relationship business.  Relationships with academics are also important.

Location, Location, Location

The other piece is geographic.”   Francesco De Rubertis, Partner, at Index Ventures said, “Returns have to be good enough for investors to get back in.”  Index Ventures’ strategy is to invest in early-stage, single-asset companies in Europe, U.S. and Israel.  Recently, there have been a number of high-profile funding collaborations between pharma companies and traditional VC funds such as GSK and JNJ with Index Ventures, Sanofi and Third Rock (Warp Drive), and Eli Lilly and TVM Capital.  The strategy is that by combining their resources and expertise, these firms hope to source and develop drugs that are winners.

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