BIO 2015: New Name, New Challenges

Wyatt Gotbetter discusses themes from this year’s BIO convention.

BIO followed many of the major trends we are seeing the larger biopharma industry, and in some ways this reflects both the maturation and great success of BIO and the many commercial stage companies that are dealing with “big company” issues.

First, BIO has rebranded to be the Biotech Innovation Organization (previously “Industry”) and a major impetus is clearly to tell the story of innovation and to proactively defend pricing with the story of improved patient outcomes, discoveries of treatments for previously unserved indications, and to a lesser extent extending value in the food and crop science arena. As costs to end users and payers go up, BIO, like pharma, wants to get ahead of the growing scrutiny from stakeholders around price and outsiders’ views of the industry as greedy.

Many of these themes were certainly reinforced by incoming Chair Ron Cohen, MD and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics, at his keynote and in the many educational tracks, reinforcing BIO’s and its members’ priorities:

  • Communicating value and finding new methods of payment are both the legacy of many new orphan launches and the almost universally strong response to Solvadi pricing. Gene therapy and new immunooncology regimens are worrisome as they may be too much for fragmented commercial payers in the US to handle, plus they ignite debate on “cost density” – the idea that front loaded very high costs, relative to durable benefits, are challenging to the US health care model.
  • Deeper engagement of patients, and patient advocates, as both partners in clinical decision making and solution development – this spoke to engagement on payment and regulatory strategies to remove such barriers prior to commercialization, as well as greater compliance and commitment for those on therapy.

Part and parcel of this is developing patient digital solutions and “going beyond the pill.” These are growing themes at BIO. Biotech companies as a group should be vanguards of commercial and digital strategies, but it seemed “old guard” pharma were the most visible in panels on investments and solution development, as well as sheer experimentation.

Sessions on working with the investment community and dealing with activist investors were also highlights. Whereas capital raising dominated such sessions in the past, activist investors are increasingly identifying targets and potential large gains in taking control of biotechs that seemingly overspend or, in investors’ views, misappropriate capital. A perverse sign of the industry’s success in launching IPOs, indeed.

Lastly, Dr.Eric Topol of Scripps provided an exciting view of technologies for diagnosis, self-care and monitoring and highlighted how the “instant answer” and “instant gratification” world of ubiquitous patient monitoring will surely challenge the health care establishment, while perversely we still wait to see doctors. Clearly, means to extend physicians and their physical presence (along with existing restrictions on practice) need to evolve to make the most of these technologies, and allow more people to get the care they need, when needed. Topol’s keynote session include a sobering discussion from Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Chair, on diminishing (federal) funding and the promising high quality grantees who simply cannot be funded.

Wyatt Gotbetter is a Vice President at Health Advances.

Opinions expressed here are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Health Advances LLC, its management, or affiliates

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