Highlights from California Bioscience Business Roundtable

A number of topics was discussed at the recent California Bioscience Business Roundtable including the venture financing environment, follow-on biologics (biosimilars), and health care reform.

Doug Kelly, MD from Alloy Ventures gave a pretty bleak outlook on venture financing; he even used the word “Armageddon” in describing the current environment. I was actually surprised to hear that he was not looking at any biopharmaceutical drug investments at the moment. Uncertainty surrounding biosimilars regulation and the FDA approval process were making it difficult to make any big bets. Adding to that is the financial crisis that is limiting the ability of VCs to make investments. Bill Gurley from Benchmark Capital has a great explanation of how the financial environment is impacting VC on his blog. I thought I was relatively pessimistic but Doug Kelly really depressed me!

Lori Reilly from PhRMA and Sam Youngman, White House correspondent from The Hill, discussed health care reform. The Democrats have not been doing a good job advocating health care reform apparently. Although, the recent passing of Senator Ted Kennedy might be a catalyst that galvanizes the Democrats. President Obama should start making an even bigger push for reform as a result. It’s difficult to see whether any legislation will get passed by the end of the year given the amount of time Congress has left, but eventually, a compromised bill that doesn’t make anyone happy will get signed. If the Democrats cannot get something signed soon though, the opportunity for health care reform will eventually die, similarly to what occurred during the Clinton administration.

Geoff Eich, Director of Regulatory Affairs at Amgen, highlighted the success of follow-on biologics regulation in the EU. For example, interferon biosimilars had different characteristics than branded interferon and caused relapses in patients. Ultimately, the EU rejected the interferon biosimilars. Human growth hormone (hGH) biosimilars suffered problems with side effects initially until it was discovered that there were problems with the purification process. Once the problem was solved, EU regulators approved hGH biosimilars. These examples clearly show that there will be a number of technical hurdles for biosimilar manufacturers to overcome. Just imagine how difficult it will be to manufacture antibodies if it’s this difficult to do more simple proteins.

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