British Tech Network and New Products at MacWorld/iWorld 2014

SAN FRANCISCO (HighTech Reports), Moscone North, March 27, 2014 – MacWorld/ iWorld 2014. We watched a panel discussion session at the Second Stage presented by the British Tech Network (BTN) with speaker Paul Wheatley, User Experience Consultant and Host at the BTN. Paul and the panelists talked about the pros and cons of a bigger screen on the current or future iPhone, among other topics. He said that consumers are buying bigger iPhones, but the panel still preferred iPhones with smaller screens because they fit better in men’s pants pockets.

The panelists also talked about two interesting new products that they saw at the expo, BearExtender Edge and the Ring. The BearExtender Edge is long range Wi-Fi repeater/ booster that works with Macs, iPad/iPhone, and other devices (PCs with Wi-FI, other phones or tablets with Wi-Fi). The one-piece Wi-Fi repeater block plugs into an AC outlet and has an antenna that repeats/ boosts the Wi-Fi signal in the area. It does not require software or USB connector.  BearExtender also makes a high power standalone USB Wi-Fi radio adapter with an external antenna that increases the range of a Mac’s Wi-Fi signal by nearly four times that of an internal AirPort card. It adds Wi-Fi to older Macs or Windows PCs that do not have a built-in Wi-Fi adapter.

Paul and the panel were very intrigued by a new product called the Ring from Logbar, Inc., a San Carlos, California-based company.  It is a wearable technology product that fits on a finger as a finger ring.  The new Kickstarter funded device transmits hand movements or gestures to an iPhone or other Bluetooth enabled devices. The Ring works as an in-the-air pointing device that drew a largish crowd around its booth. A spokesperson from the Asian firm that is making the device suggested that the Ring is still in beta-test.

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ThermoFisher Aims to Get FDA OK for its Ion Torrent PGM

By Paula Myers

At this year’s CHI Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference at the Moscone Convention Center, San Francisco, February 11th, there were over 3000 attendees and more than 200 exhibitors. I visited some of the many booths on the exhibit floor. One of those was the ThermoFisher booth. I spoke with Zhen Mahoney,Sr. Clinical Sales Specialist/Pharma Business. Mahoney talked about the acquisition of Life Technology and how it affects ThermoFisher.  Thermo will have to absorb Life’s 9,000 employees. Thermo currently has 40,000 employees. Mahoney pointed out that Life has a broad product portfolio. Ion Torrent, which Life acquired in 2010, is located at Oyster Point near South San Francisco. The rest of company is located at Carlsbad, California, near San Diego, including the Invitrogen and Gibco brands. These groups are staying intact, according to Mahoney.

She also pointed out that the company submitted an application for 510K marketing clearance to the FDA for its Ion PGM system for use as a diagnostics medical device. They are hoping for a 3 to 4 month approval timeframe. By comparison, the Illumina MiSeq took about 9 months to get FDA 510K approval because it was the first of its kind. The Illumina MiSeq received a relatively fast approval because the company worked closely with FDA reviewers so that they can understand its technology. The MiSeq platform serves as a template to the FDA for follow-on platforms from Illumina and other desktop sequencer vendors. Mahoney said that the next revision for their Ion Torrent electronic P-2 Chip is coming later in 2014. It will have 660 million wells.

Some of the other firms that I visited included: Guardant Health, Diagenode, and Epitomics. I focused on companies involved in epigenetics. Guardant Health is a two-year-old service company for individuals. In February, they released GUARDANT360, the first pan-cancer blood test that provides doctors with real-time genetic information to help them prescribe the right treatments for their cancer patients.

  Diagenode is a company originally from Belgium and sells Japanese made disruptor shearing machines such as the Bioruptor Pico for DNA, chromatin, and RNA shearing. Epitomics, located in Burlingame, California, offers custom antibody services for use in epigenetics research. Li Fang, Project Manager of Custom Antibody Services at Epitomics, said that Abcam is buying the company. Abcam is a supplier of antibodies,proteins, kits and reagents.

iPhone 5 More Powerful than the Curiosity Mars Rover

SAN FRANCISCO (Takeda Pacific HighTech Reports), Moscone West, January 30, 2013 — MacWorld/iWorld 2013.  NASA experts spoke about NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover and its connection to Apple products at a meeting here.  The session was titled “Software, Hardware, and Flying to Mars. How We Built, Programmed and Operate NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover.”  David Oh, Lead Flight Director and Software Engineer at JPL/Caltech Mars Science Lab, asked the question, “Why are we at MacWorld?”  The answer was shown in a slide of the NASA control room at the JPL in Pasadena, California.  On the desk was a mixture of Apple products such as MacBook Pros, iPhones and iPads during the Rover’s Mars landing.  The Macs were running Mac OS X.

Ben Cichy, Chief Flight Software Engineer, compared the processing power of the iPhone 5 to Curiosity’s processing power.  The iPhone 5 has 1.3 GHz and the Curiosity has only 132 MHz.  In addition, the iPhone 5 has 1GB of memory and 64GB of storage and the Rover has 128MB of memory and 4GB of storage.  The cost of an iPhone 5 is $399 while the cost of the Curiosity was $1.8 billion.

During the session, the audience was shown a video of the landing of the Curiosity on Mars.  It only took 7 minutes, but a very tense 7 minutes.  It was very exciting watching the landing of the Mars Rover all over again.  “The Rover’s goal is to explore and see if Mars ever sustained life or is now,” Ben said.

David showed a slide that described the different parts that make up the Rover.  He added that the heart of the mission is the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars).  The SAM analyzes the chemical and isotopic composition of the planet’s atmosphere and surface.  He said that the “Curiosity has two brains (computers) in its belly.  One is the primary computer and the other is the backup.”  This time social media plays a big part in providing people access to seeing what is happening with the Curiosity as it explores the surface of Mars.  The Curiosity has its own Facebook page and iPhone app.

OvaScience, Seattle Genetics, and Qiagen Present at 31st J.P. Morgan Heathcare Event

This year’s 2013 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco (January 7  to 10) had around 8400 attendees and around 400 company presentations.  Navigating through the hallways to the numerous presentations was a challenge.  These are three of the many company presentations I attended.

OvaScience’s CEO Michelle Dipp gave a very interesting presentation about new infertility treatment options. The U.S. fertility market is over $4 billion and it is seeing rapid worldwide growth, said Dipp.  Some other interesting statistics included that every year there are 7.3 million childbearing women that are infertile and 1.2 million women seeking treatment.  There are over 400 IVF clinics in the U.S.  Most of them are in the East and West Coast.  Unfortunately, most IVF treatments fail because many women are delaying childbirth. Apparently, energy in eggs decreases with age.

OvaScience has discovered that adding mitochondria to human eggs increases IVF success. The company’s new approach to infertility is called the Egg Precursor Cell (EggPC).  The discovery of these EggPCs (germline stem cells) that mature into eggs offers new fertility treatment options, said Dipp.

The company has two product candidates that include Augment and OvaTure.  There is a study underway for the firm’s first product, Augment.  Augment uses EggPC mitochondria to rejuvenate eggs.  The company’s second product OvaTure involves fresh, young, healthy eggs matured in the lab from EggPCs.  The OvaTure program is currently being designed.  According to Dipp, the goal is to improve the IVF success rate for older women while reducing the number of embryos that need to be transferred to the uterus thus decreasing the number of multiple births.  That would be great news for the many infertile women who could benefit from this treatment and not have to worry about the potential of multiple births.

Seattle Genetics’ President and CEO Clay Siegall began his presentation with the company’s key value drivers.  They include building the Adcetris franchise, advancing the antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) pipeline and technology along with its strong financial position and collaborations to fund a very robust research.  Adcetris targets the CD30 cell membrane protein, which is expressed on the surface of certain types of lymphoma cells.  Adcetris is FDA approved for relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma and systemic anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

The firm also received EU approval for Adcetris in October 2012.  Seattle Genetics has 20 internal and collaborator ongoing clinical programs for Hodgkin lymphoma and other cancers.  The company has collaborations with Millennium/Takeda, Genentech, Celldex, Bayer, and Abbott just to name a few.  According to Siegall, “ADC collaborations have generated over $200 million to date with the potential for around $3.8 billion in future milestones plus royalties.”  Net product sales of Adcetris since launch in August 2011 are over $145 million.  Siegall said they are “making strong progress towards a fully global brand.”

Peer Schatz, President and CEO at QIAGEN N.V., began by saying that “2012 was a very important and successful year.”  He said that QIAsymphony is the company’s fastest growing product in molecular diagnostic placements with Europe being the biggest at 40 percent and the U.S. coming in at 35 percent.  Another of its products is the Therascreen KRAS test, a companion diagnostic for metastatic colon cancer to help guide doctors in the use of Erbitux.  “The U.S. KRAS market conversion is progressing well.  Doctors are demanding the Therascreen test,” said Schatz.

Over the next 2 years, the firm will be developing several new molecular diagnostic assays.  Qiagen is also developing new biomarkers with the potential as companion diagnostics.  One of the company’s goals is to “expand NGS from research to routine clinical use.”  Qiagen is preparing the launch of its first NGS workflows in 2013, which includes a broad range of its products such as the QIAsymphony NGS version.  In closing, Schatz said the company will be “executing on its 2013 initiatives to drive growth and innovation at a faster pace.”

Financing Trend Expands for Young Biotechs in 2013

There were around 1,600 attendees this year at Biotech Showcase 2013 held at the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco.  One of the luncheons I attended was a panel discussion.  The topic was “The View from the Street: Looking Forward.” Here is some of what was discussed by the panel. Each of the panelists gave their view of this topic.

Robert Hazlett, Senior Research Analyst at Roth Capital said that he is “bullish for the biotech and pharma industry.”  He also predicts 38 drug approvals a year.  Hazlett said there has been beneficial advancement in biology and he is enthusiastic about advancements in oncology.  He thinks there has been modest progress on the regulatory side.

Evan McCullough, Portfolio Manager at Franklin Templeton, gave his perspective as a buy side guy.  He said Gilead started a rally by buying Pharmacet.  McCullough said that the IPO window is open, payers are tough, high deductible plans are coming so think about how that effects reimbursement of drugs.  He is also frustrated that there isn’t more M&As.  If a company wants to go IPO, they need proof of concept and solid Phase 2 data, McCullough added.  He said that for companies that want to have an IPO, there are ways to do it.  Companies spend too much time on the lead compound.  They need other compounds in case the lead compound fails.

Evonne Sepsis, Managing Director at ESC Advisors said, “Companies are looking for $2 million initially and that’s difficult.”  Private companies need a great management team, great technology, and safety is becoming very important, she added.  Also important are pricing, reimbursement, and commercialization.

Also on the panel was Greg Simon, CEO at Poliwogg.com.  Poliwogg is an internet-based broker/dealer/crowd funding portal/asset manager.  Simon pointed out that there are lots of people going into there 30’s.  They will be investing.  With crowd funding, a non-accredited investor can invest $1 million in a company.  Accredited investors can invest over $1 million.  The new JOBS Act law lets people like Simon for example invest only $100,000 in a company.  He said,  “You can now get a crowd of people to invest in you.”  The JOBS Act lowers the threshold of investment.  People typically start investing at age 35.  VC’s are making room for a whole new crowd to move in.

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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