#BIO2017 Day 1 roundup: Saunders' popularity and BI's strategy
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization annual conference kicked off Monday morning in San Diego. The industry group promises to have record-breaking attendance this year at the meeting and is already boasting 6,000 first-time attendees.
The conference will include fireside chats with some notable industry characters including high-profile Allergan CEO Brent Saunders, former British Prime Minister David Cameron and Anne Romney, who has been battling multiple sclerosis, among others
Despite the incredible slowdown to M&A over the last year (Read about EY’s take on it here), thousands of companies are gathering in the Gaslamp District to pursue partnering opportunities.
Here are a few of the snippets from around the conference today:
Boehringer’s new U.S. BD chief talks strategy
After more than a dozen years at the company in a variety of roles, Ioannis Sapountzis moved into the role of head of business development and licensing for the U.S. and specialty care earlier this year. While he freely admits that oncology is the area that is dearest to his heart, the executive showed excitement about the prospects in other areas like fibrotic diseases.
Boehringer is one of the many companies pursuing treatments for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Boehringer acquired a compound from Australia’s Pharmaxis in 2015 to bring forward the smaller biotech’s anti-inflammatory compound, which is starting a Phase 2 NASH trial any moment, says Sapountzis.
This tie-up is typical of the sorts of deals that Boehringer is trying to conduct to fill its pipeline. Sapountzis notes that nearly 30% of the company’s early pipeline is tied to external collaborations, with nearly $1.5 billion earmarked for these sorts of deals.
"We are looking for opportunities that can be first-in-class and are looking earlier in the value chain," said Sapountzis in an interview. "We are looking as early as a new therapeutic concept that someone wants to incubate with us and up to pre-clinical stages or IND-ready."
Sapountzis admits that looking for compounds now is more difficult due to the high levels of competition. "Partnering moves into earlier stages all the time. We’ve seen this continuous trend over the last couple of years. More and more companies are partnering earlier, and so is BI. We are agnostic to the source of innovation, whether it be academic or biotech."
This intense competitive environment certainly characterizes immuno-oncology and fibrotic diseases, but has been characteristic of all of the areas that Boehringer operates in. "Most of the therapeutic areas that Boehringer is involved in are competitive. Perhaps with the exception of CNS, where we’ve seen a couple of companies abandoning the field while we are still staying true to CNS."
Brent Saunders thinks he’s unpopular
The CEO of Allergan told a packed room at the BIO International Convention that he doesn’t think he’s very popular amongst his peer biopharma CEOs due to the outspoken stance he’s taken on issues like drug pricing.
Saunders was thrust into the spotlight on the issue back in September 2015 when he happened to be asked about Hillary Clinton’s famous tweet about drug pricing and Martin Shkreli. He has since published Allergan’s ‘social contract’ with patients, detailing the company’s efforts to curb gross price increase for their drugs.
"The biopharmaceutical industry is so unpopular, so unpopular," said Saunders, noting that even for those people that value what the industry does, "it is becoming harder and harder for them to defend us."
"We as an industry need to do our part. We need to do something that shows who we really are, because we are really good people trying to do really good things," he added. "The people who are in the news cycle aren’t part of the mainstream of the industry," said the CEO, pointing the finger at companies like Turing and Mylan, "but that isn’t going to matter to people in line at CVS who can’t afford to pick up their prescription."
Saunders had some advice for his pharma brethren: "Instead of berating other parts of the system — and there are parts that need to fixed — don’t worry about what the PBMs are doing, only worry about what we are doing. Let’s get our house in order."
The executive didn’t only focus on the issue of drug pricing during his chat at BIO, he also touched on the company’s $8 billion-a-year juggernaut Botox. He noted that the company plans to study the drug in depression and atrial fibrillation. He also pointed out that Botox is approved for the treatment of migraines and will likely be a lower-cost alternative to the closely watched class of CGRP inhibitors that are currently coming through the pipeline.
Rigel gets its day with the FDA
Despite some mixed late-stage data, Rigel Pharmaceuticals announced Monday morning that the Food and Drug Administration has accepted the company's New Drug Application for its lead candidate fostamatinib. The drug, which is a SYK inhibitor for the treatment of a rare bleeding disease, now has a user fee action date of April 17.
Rigel CEO Raul Rodriguez told BioPharma Dive at BIO that the company expects to face an advisory committee some time in December or January — although a panel meeting has not been confirmed.
The company disappointed investors back in October, when the response from a single placebo patient derailed the most recent Phase 3 study.
Rodriguez was optimistic about prospects for the drug though and said that the company is currently building out its commercial organization. Rigel plans to have 20 members of the commercial staff in-house and another 30 sales reps around the country.
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