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JPM: Biotech, VC execs on where the industry should look beyond cancer

FierceBiotech asked life science executives at this year's J.P. Morgan conference about where the industry should be looking outside of cancer. (Penn Medicine)

SAN FRANCISCO—Oncology is clearly a major medical and societal issue: a major killer that, while predominately affecting the older population, can strike the young through a mixture of environmental factors or a genetic lottery. It’s no wonder we struggle to even call it by its name, preferring just the "big C."

Biopharma has acted accordingly over the years and spent billions (and made many more billions) developing new oncology therapies, with the media and political focus falling on cancer drugs far more acutely than any other area, whether that be overpricing (the current average cost of a new cancer drug in the U.S. is around $100,000), effectiveness/safety or rejection from healthcare gatekeepers, such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in England.

But cancer is only one disease area: Heart disease is the biggest killer in the U.S., yet there are very few new and innovative CV drugs out there, with influenza complications, such as pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke and diabetes complications all leading causes of death in the U.S. There has been a war on cancer, but not a war on stroke.

There is also the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, where decades-old antibiotics are ceasing to work against common forms of bacteria as they evolve; this, coupled with the fact that most life science companies aren’t working on the next generation of antibiotics (R&D costs are high with little or no ROI), means we could very well be facing a new surge in deaths in the future from once preventable diseases and infections.

At the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco this week, we at FierceBiotech wondered what the industry was doing about this and asked a range of life science C-suite execs: “What therapeutic areas beyond cancer are most important to the industry now?” both in terms of unmet need as well as where there is some real innovation.

Jim Robinson, chief operating officer at Paragon Biosciences, said: “I spent 10 years in oncology, so I understand that point. Still, the biggest issue we face today that has to be figured out is Alzheimer’s. Looking at the aftermath, it’s scary—it’s going to be trillions of dollars in 20 short years in terms of the expense of treating patients with Alzheimer’s. In 20 short years, I might be one of those patients!

Written by: Ben Adams, Amirah Al Idrus

Published on: Jan 17, 2020 10:05am

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