Boston’s Answer to the JP Morgan Life Sciences Conference
Once again, the Massachusetts Technology Transfer Center scored a direct hit with their Early-Stage Life Sciences Conference VII. Partnering with the Merck Research Labs, they lined up an impressive array of new companies loaded with pedigreed, serial entrepreneurs from Harvard, MIT, Genzyme, Hologics, and other leading academic centers and corporations. Each of the sixteen companies had ten minutes to pitch their newco to investors and the biotech community – which gave the proceedings a kind of mini- JP Morgan Life Sciences Conference feel. Presenters ranged from medical device, Rx, and Dx companies to tools players.
Donna Ambrosino kicked things off as the keynote speaker and conveyed some riveting examples of MassBiologic ’s successes, including the stellar story of developing an antibody Rx for SARS in only 31 months. There were several platform companies that caught my eye, including NobleGen Biosciences, a single-molecule DNA-sequencing company that has developed an optical nanopore sequencing approach. It looks to give Pacific Biosciences a run for their money and has the speed to sequence an entire genome in one hour, something we never dreamed about during my days at Celera. The winners of the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2005 presented Pharyx, a novel microfluidic bioreactor platform; and Alexey Wolfson introduced us to an exciting gene knockout RNAi company, Advirna, that could be a great acquisition target for Thermo Fisher, Life Technologies, or others. Optasia Medical and Translational Sciences presented some exciting new solutions to interpret and analyze CT and PET imaging.
In terms of new medical device companies, one of my Flagship Ventures colleagues, Jay Schwartz, presented Acuity Bio, an exciting drug delivery company with a polymer implant for treating non-small cell lung cancer. He also discussed potentially lucrative secondary markets, including colon and breast cancer. As we all know, crossing the blood/ brain barrier is not easy, but Al Kyle showcased Perfusion Technology, which utilizes ultrasound as a non-invasive method for drug delivery to the brain. There was also a new ablative therapy company, Thermedical, that will be able to offer revolutionary treatments for ventricular tachycardia and liver cancer. And then there was eye-opening (sorry!) idea of medication via contact lenses. Dr. Joseph B. Ciolino from Mass Eye & Ear is working with the famous drug delivery wizard Bob Langer to develop a contact lens that can deliver medicine in a time-release fashion to treat glaucoma.
Okay, now for the drugs… On the therapeutic side, two oncology companies presented: Bryan Oncor and OncoPep. OncoPep, developed at Dana Farber, is launching a new line of cancer vaccines to combat a broad spectrum of cancers. Bryan Oncor’s drug is based on a somatostatin peptide and has an imaging diagnostic paired with their Rx for lung cancer. Basically, they run a peptide imaging diagnostic on potential patients. If their cells light up positive for the somatostatin receptor, they are a match for the therapy. A very exciting combo – that yes, illustrates the promise of personalized medicine that I wrote about in an earlier post.
Continuing on with protein-oriented drugs, does the thought of oral antibody therapies seem farfetched? If so, it won’t for long. Avaxia Biologics has developed an oral antibody therapy to combat inflammatory bowel disease, attacking a $3.5B market.
One fun health-techy company that presented was Segterra. It is a web-base personalized path to health, wellness, and performance. They analyze a sample of your blood, and in conjunction with your individual goals for health or athletic achievement, provide the diet, nutrition, and exercise plan best for your signature biochemistry. Looks promising, though I’ll admit that it gives me some pangs of guilt about gobbling down that hot dog for dinner. On the other hand, skipping my morning run to attend the conference was totally worth it!