This Year’s JPM Healthcare Conference Should Give Our Industry Confidence

Andrew A. Radin
CEO, twoXAR Pharmaceuticals

Every year, for the past 39 years, the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference has been one of the most reliable predictors of our industry’s health. It’s a gauge of industry innovation, deal making, funding and overall sentiment about the value of the pharmaceutical market.

However, this year was obviously different. We were faced with unprecedented economic decline and an industry seemingly entirely focused on COVID-19. Expectations were tempered for a lot of companies as to what impact this pandemic and this economy will have on funding new pharmaceutical innovation.

We attended this year’s virtual meeting and from what we saw, I’m more hopeful than ever.

This year’s conference — despite being all virtual — was bustling, and not just because of COVID-19, but because there is a true commitment across industries that innovation in healthcare is needed more than ever. And that there is a lot of value in our industry to be realized.

From our view, we’re looking at the appetite for companies to explore novel MOAs and expand R&D programs in therapeutic areas they have not previously explored, and that are outside of the herd. In other words, they want to disrupt and not iterate or enter today’s blockbuster markets, such as immune-oncology and monoclonal antibodies.

From what we saw at this year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, I believe we have an industry hungry for innovation that is outside the herd. For us, that is very promising because that is where twoXAR is focused — first-in-class, novel approaches.

Below are a few takeaways from that perspective.

It’s not all about COVID-19

Much of the presentations and news headlines were certainty focused on COVID-19. Those topics ranged from new COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to changes in our healthcare system brought on by this pandemic, such as telemedicine and technology. However, as a company not focused on pathogens, we saw that the appetite for deal making and collaboration against other diseases was alive and well.

In fact, we had a full and productive schedule with companies interested in advancing pipelines in a range of therapeutics areas from cardiovascular disease and oncology to rare and orphan diseases. Many panel speakers and panel participants reiterated that they are seeking innovation across all therapeutic areas and are hungry and committed to launching new programs in the coming year. That’s a good sign and indicator that tremendous value exists in finding breakthroughs in diseases where the focus has traditionally been to find incremental value.

Many pharmaceutical companies still look at startup and biotechs for innovation

The appetite for increasing pipeline productivity and novel approaches is still very much seen as a priority for pharmaceutical companies, and a lot of that innovation is still happening within biotech and pharmaceutical start-ups. This trend is reinforced by the fact that both COVID-19 vaccines came not from large pharma, but from biotechs that were established within the last decade. And the mRNA approach is very much a new innovation that can potentially impact other diseases.

In fact, there were more than 400 biotech companies presenting updates this year. That is a lot of scientific innovation happening across a lot of therapeutic areas. There was also a good deal of discussion around how to structure deals so that biotechs and pharmaceutical companies can continue operating with independence, which leads me to my next point.

The importance of open collaboration is front and center

As usual, there were plenty of conversations about the need for collaboration to tackle current and future disease threats, and the Pfizer/BioNTech partnership was a widely cited case. But the theme of openness and transparency was strong this year. This is validating for twoXAR because open communication with our partners is a key factor for our success to date.

All of the partnerships we have with pharmaceutical and biotech companies are entered with the agreement that open dialogue is critical. Our teams have complementary skills to that of our partners, but we also think differently and bring different ideas to the table. To us, it is essential to growth and this year’s meeting showcased that it’s going to be essential for growth across the board.

Given the sheer size of this conference, there is really no substitute for the conversations, the panels and the presentations that occur every year. Against all odds, this year’s meeting proved to be one of the most productive on record for twoXAR. Our entire team is excited about the appetite for innovation in 2021 and we’re looking forward to growing our pipeline and working with new partners to help us realize our vision of helping patients live better lives.

Aria Pharmaceuticals is a preclinical-stage pharmaceutical company discovering and developing novel small molecule therapies for complex diseases.

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