It’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year

January 16, 2015

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It’s the most wonderful time of year. For healthcare, that is.

This week in San Francisco, over 300 healthcare companies, both public and private, presented vision, business objectives, challenges and opportunities for 2015 at arguably the year’s largest meeting, the 33rd Annual J.P. Morgan (client) Healthcare Conference. Investors, media, healthcare professionals, even patient advocates swarmed the city to see where the industry is headed, make predictions and form new connections.

In short, the conference is an important litmus test for how these audiences feel about the industry. And judging from the mood on the ground, in the media, and online, we’re in a golden age for healthcare, with opportunities to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges and improving life for millions. We’re proud to be part of the excitement, and look forward to the road ahead.

The Mood At JP Morgan: It’s Oh So Good

Optimism abounds, especially if you’re a healthcare investor. The answer to the question we asked at the beginning of the conference – “the large-scale acquisition returned in 2014. Will 2015 see more of the same?” – seems to be a resounding yes. John Carroll at FierceBiotech writes, “Those higher biotech numbers you’ve been hearing about are now an accepted part of the industry scene,” and adds that “dealmakers this year were happy to discuss their appetite for blockbuster collaborations and acquisitions.” There’s also a growing appreciation for the real innovation created by the biotechnology industry. The iPhone is cool, but as Nate Sadeghi-Nejad, a biotech investor and Forbes contributor, writes: “Meaningful innovation nowadays is most often found in biotech. That’s pretty cool, especially since it hasn’t always been the case. To even the most begrudging curmudgeon, it’s clear that biotech is having a resurgence.”

Howdy, Partner

Everybody wants to be a partner. One of the biggest “buzz words” at JPM, some companies are already starting new relationships, and if they weren’t, almost every company talked about it. As noted above, Roche is working with Foundation Medicine, 23andMe announced an agreement with Pfizer, Novartis highlighted its work with Google, Medtronic its collaboration with healthcare providers in catheterization labs, and Genentech had a view on seeing past the pick-up line to a meaningful relationship.

No Escaping Drug Costs

Pharmaceutical benefits managers (PBMs) are seeing gains in lowering drug prices as they have pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies offer some discounting to ensure formulary access. Hepatitis C is the first disease category where this happened, but Express Scripts said it will continue to push back on the price of drugs, particularly around cancer and high cholesterol. Regeneron and Amgen may be most likely to face the fallout, according to Bloomberg. Eli Lilly, meanwhile, said other insurers are also getting into the act around diabetes. The New York Times also weighed in with a related op-ed from Dr. Peter Bach (Memorial Sloan Kettering), who argued that the recent PBM agreements are helping ensure patients have access to effective treatments.

Ask a Healthcare CEO: What Technology Will Transform Your Business?

CNBC News reporter Meg Tirrell discussed transforming medicine with notable healthcare executives. RNA-based therapies topped the list, and Merck could be poised to take the lead. As reported earlier this week, Merck announced a license and collaboration agreement with Moderna Therapeutics to use its mRNA technology to develop as many as five vaccines and treatments against infectious diseases over the next three years.

Genomic Sequencing and Cell-Based Therapies Will Help Create the Next Wave of New Medicines

Last year was a landmark, as it saw the first-ever gene therapy approved for marketing in Europe (UniQure’s Glybera (alipogene tiparvovec) for lipoprotein lipase deficiency). Financing for gene and cell-based therapies, more than doubled from 2013 to reach $6.3 billion last year. This year, the momentum is already continuing as Roche entered a broad strategic collaboration to further advance Foundation Medicine’s position in molecular information and genomic analysis.

Public Health Research is at a Crossroads

Key note speaker and NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins spoke about the desperate need to bring funding back to public life science and medical research in America. Since 2003, the NIH has lost 25 percent of its purchasing power and only one in six research projects are being funded by the NIH due to the funding cuts and inflation.

Can this most wonderful time of year continue throughout the rest of 2015? We’ll have to wait and see, but we’re thrilled about what’s in front of us and the exciting work we’ll do with our clients in 2015.