Comment: LSX World Congress 2023 

Biotechnology

The LSX World Congress 2023 took place at the Business Design Centre in London, UK in May 2023. DDW’s Megan Thomas comments on the event.  

New approaches to partnering  

In this event in the Biotech track, Clive Cookson, Science Editor at the Financial Times, interviewed John McDonald, Corporate Vice President, Global R&D Business Development, Novo Nordisk. The discussion answered three main questions: What is the new direction for the company? How to improve its pipeline? How best to communicate this strategy to both internal and external stakeholders? 

Cookson asked whether McDonald thought it was fair that Novo Nordisk has been reputed as a ‘sleepy giant’, or as McDonald confirmed, ‘window shoppers’ in the past when it comes to partnerships. McDonald agreed that this is indeed a reputation of the past and that Novo Nordisk will change in the future. In this vein, the company will be looking for companies which are rooted in innovation. “That’s the thing that sells”, McDonald said. He said that when it comes to partnerships in the future, the company will be looking to scout innovation earlier in the process – where previously they would wait until Phase II of clinical development, they are looking to put energy into earlier partnering.  

Though McDonald reinforced that the company will go wherever the innovation is, in his ‘humble opinion, it’s Boston’. This area in the US, he thinks, is where a lot of the opportunity and innovation is happening, owing in part to the academic ecosystem. On that, he believes that Europe has the potential with a number of excellent institutions.  

When it comes to why companies or start-ups should partner with Novo Nordisk, McDonald reminded the audience that Novo Nordisk is owned by a charitable organisation and is 30% shared ownership, meaning the company will never be sold. He believes this adds a layer of stability to a partnership. In addition, the company has a track record in acquisition without cutting the asset pipeline or programme, finding a new home for those that don’t match the company.  

Ultimately, Novo Nordisk appears to be committed to driving change in how the world sees, prevents, and treats diseases and will be heading confidently in a new strategic direction that requires an enhanced and renewed focus on partnering. 

Building a galvanising culture and successful transatlantic biotech 

Next, a panel discussion which gathered experts to answer the following questions: How does leadership shape company culture? What do employees expect from their leadership in terms of culture in 2023 and how can we adapt? How can company culture influence the hiring process? How can a biotech begin to shape and mould its culture, into something new and established? 

The panel was moderated by Alexander Nuyken, Head Life Sciences Markets Europe, Middle East & Africa, JLL. It included: Renee Aguiar-Lucander, CEO of Calliditas, Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine, Florian Brand, CEO of atai Life Sciences, Lovisa Afzelius, Co-founder and CEO of Apriori Bio and Origination Partner of Flagship Pioneering. Each brought different ideas to the table on what they consider to be the best practices, insights, and pro-tips when building an inspiring company which prioritises growth. 

The conversation varied in terms of what growth means, with one of the speakers describing the current industry landscape in China as like arriving in New York City in the 1920s, with others noting the generational shifts of life and career expectations when it comes to hiring younger employees.  

Showcase agenda 

Throughout the day, there were a number of presentations on the exhibition floor which provided company updates and showcased a number of exciting results and projects, highlighting both how far we have come in the treatment of disease, as well as how far there is still to go. Companies presenting included:  

  • Rejuvenate Biomed: Researching the biology of aging and identify opportunities to impact the aging process
  • PharmNovo: Developing novel Delta Opioid Receptor Agonists that are safe and effective for chronic pain treatment (DORAs)
  • Diaccurate: Exploring new frontiers of oncology and immunology in search of novel therapeutic approaches
  • leco Therapeutics: Developing treatments for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and Small-Cell Lung Cancer (SCLC)
  • Preverna: Using its AI-powered, protein targeting platform to improve the efficacy of existing small molecule oncology treatments by making sure they are used on people most likely to respond favourably
  • Abarceo Pharma: Developing a platform for the treatment of mitochondrial diseases, with an initial focus on Type 2 Diabetes
  • Diamyd Medical: Focusing on immune modifying therapies for diabetes
  • Biozen: Researching novel therapeutics for the treatment of endocrine disorders
  • Scenic Biotech: Discovering genetic modifiers to enable the development of transformative therapeutics.

Meet the biotech: Enhanc3D Genomics 

Enhanc3D Genomics was spun out from the laboratories of Dr Stefan Schoenfelder and Professor Peter Fraser, who pioneered research into the dynamic spatial organisation of the genome at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK. Megan Thomas caught up with Debora Lucarelli, CEO of Enhanc3D Genomics, to learn more about the company.   

She said: “We are a functional genomics company with a proprietary platform that allows us to charter the non-coding DNA, from which we extract a lot of valuable information to identify novel targets and biomarkers. We started about three years ago and since then, we’ve been on a growing journey of fundraising and expanding the team. As of today, there are 22 team members and we recently started commercial interactions. I consider one of my responsibilities to advocate the advent of a new era for 3D genomics. Our final goal is to pioneer the 3D genomic field and demonstrate the impact on precision medicine. By utilising genetic information, we can make a big difference to patients.” 

When it comes to the challenges Enhanc3D is facing, Lucarelli says there are slightly different ones depending on the phase. “A challenge, or an adventure, whichever way you want to call it”, she says. She shares that there is an expectation for Enhanc3D to be both financially sustainable, but also have strong foundations from the technology point of view. She said: “It’s not so much about proving the technology, but it’s more about demonstrating how we take it towards the patient space. One of the things we are spending a lot of time on at the moment is speaking to hospitals, to medical doctors, to pharma partners… to identify use cases that can actually show how this technology can make a difference.”  

Lucarelli is a firm believer that in order to develop effective therapeutics, we need to understand the genetic underlying causes of a disease, a point which she thinks everyone agrees on. She said: “If you want to develop the right drug for the right target, you need to understand what is causal to it. The part that I think it is more challenging is to demonstrate how a genomics platform can bring that value within a short timeframe. Everybody believes that genomics is key to understand complex biology but is it possible with limited time and resources to demonstrate that you really are that ‘game changer’? That is what the business is doing now.” 

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