Wednesday, May 20 2015
By Lisa A. Bastian
Much progress continues to be made worldwide in the biotech areas of food, feed, energy - and especially the life sciences - using pioneering research platforms. Advances in areas such as immuno-oncology, personalized medicine and infectious disease solutions easily grab the media's attention - and often the funding as well. According to Dow Jones VentureSource, biopharmaceutical venture capital investment alone rose 17 percent, from $4.52 billion in 2013 to $5.29 billion in 2014.
Every other day it seems a biotechnology company is publicizing a new planet-shifting concept or beyond-blockbuster drug destined to shake up medical science - or at least garner some investor attention. Sometimes the euphoria is justified; sadly, sometimes not.
Exciting World-Class Bio-Pharma Discoveries
Last year, a World Health Organization (WHO) report warned a "post-antibiotic era" is near due to the increasing ineffectiveness of antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents in every region of the planet. The culprit? The report cites overuse of antibiotics by practitioners and hospitals, and overuse in agriculture/livestock growth programs, has supported the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria. It's been found that drug-resistant infections already kill hundreds of thousands of people a year globally, and by 2050 that figure could top 10 million and cost the world economy $100 trillion. Moreover, in July 2014 a U.K.-government report stated 700,000 deaths worldwide are due to resistance to antimicrobials, the class of drugs that includes antibiotics, antivirals, antiparasitics and antifungals.
But medical miracles are here or on the horizon.
In January, the amazing discovery of Teixobactin was announced in Nature. NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals of Massachusetts owns the patent rights to this new "game-changer" class of antibiotic, yet to be tested on humans, which destroys a wide range of drug-resistant bacteria including MRSA, tuberculosis and countless other life-threatening infections. Then there's community-acquired bacterial pneumonia (CABP), the number one cause of death from an infection. Each year five to 10 million Americans get CABP. To the rescue is Austria's Nabriva Therapeutics AG, which has attracted $120 million in funding commitments (led by U.S.-based investors Vivo Capital and OrbiMed), much of which will push its unique bacterial-pneumonia therapy toward regulatory approval. Later this year the firm expects to start Phase III clinical trials for CABP patients with Lefamulin, its drug in the new class of antibiotics called pleuromutilins. Another dog in the fight is Cempra of North Carolina, a pharma company developing new antibiotics to treat drug-resistant diseases, too. Its two lead product candidates in advanced clinical development include Solithromycin (for CABP), and Taksta (for refractory staphylococcal infections in bones and joints).
"Personalized medicine" is often defined as “the right treatment for the right person at the right time," but it's actually a layman's phrase used to describe pharmacogenomics, a science exploring the relationships between a person's genetics and targeted, individualized diagnostics/therapies resulting in better patient outcomes. In the past decade apprehensions about it have been fading, as more and more pharma companies implement some aspect of it in clinical trials of promising drugs.
Personalized medicine in particular is redefining the fight against cancer as many but not all cancer tumors can be battled with this treatment approach. New centers focused on personalized cancer care are popping up every year; most are at major cancer facilities. A renowned one is MD Anderson Cancer Center’s Institute for Personalized Cancer Therapy, which employs T-200 (an “ultra-deep research platform”) to analyze a patient’s tumor against 200 different genetic aberrations. The Center also created a public website for doctors to search to find out if there is an approved drug or clinical trial in existence that can be used to target a patient's unique genetic mutations causing a health problem.
Finding the right cancer drug (from among up to 100 or so options) to kill an individual's tumor has always been tricky - until now. Earlier this year it was reported that chemical engineers at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, have invented a rice-sized implantable device used to deliver small doses of up to 30 different drugs into a tumor. Researchers then monitor the tumor to find out which drugs are most effective at treating the cancer cells, and then select the one (or ones) that work best for that patient.
Immunotherapy is an innovative treatment using certain parts of a person's immune system to fight diseases, such as cancer, by targeting and destroying the rogue cells. New "checkpoint inhibitors" are drugs that prevents cancer from putting on an "invisibility cloak" that shields it from the body's immune system. For some people they seem to work well against multiple cancer types, including cancers of the kidneys, bladder, head and neck, and even the breast.
For example, Merck's new Keytruda (pembrolizumab) drug was approved by the FDA last September to treat metastatic melanoma. But it's also being studied for its impact on over 30 types of cancers, so more good news may be in the future. Dendreon's Provenge is the first and only FDA-approved immunotherapy for advanced prostate cancer. And in Iowa State University Research Park, NewLink Genetics has a promising pipeline of immunotherapies as well as pathway inhibitors (they work similar to immune checkpoint inhibitors) to help kill tumors associated with pancreatic, melanoma, prostate, renal and/or metastatic breast cancers, among others.
GEN'S Top 10 Biotech Clusters
Here's a summary of GEN comments about the winners:
Biotech Incentives of Note
After the forum, conference-goer Ellen Harpel, Ph.D., wrote a recent blog post on smart incentives needed to grow a successful "biotech ecosystem." (This founder of Smart Incentives is also president of Business Development Advisors, an economic development and market intelligence consulting firm.) Harpel cited a few incentives tips shared by conference participants:
"Our [company's] takeaway is that while incentives can’t create the essential elements of a successful biotech cluster," noted Harpel, "they do play an important role in facilitating company formation and expansion in the ecosystem."
Bio: Veteran business communicator Lisa A. Bastian is an award-winning journalist and editor who has authored well over 500 articles for national magazines focused on economic development, global trade and related industries. Since 1986 she has served clients nationwide with her editorial and copy writing skills (see BastianPR.com). Lisa lives in San Antonio, TX, with her family, and is a former president/board member of the local chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators.