The annual Genesis conference took place at the end of 2023 in London, bringing together key opinion leaders, investors and innovators from across the life sciences sector to exchange insights, debate trends and generate deals. DDW’s Megan Thomas attended and reflects on highlights of the programme.
Stacking the deck of ‘luck’
The first panel of the day, which followed One Nucleus’ Jon Green’s welcome and Clarivate’s Mike Ward on his annual Winners & Losers keynote presentation, was on the bio-dollar – a business term used between large pharmaceutical and smaller biotechnology companies which describes the total possible value of a transaction (excluding royalty payments).
The panel was moderated by Eleanor Malone (Citeline), and included Will Walker-Arnott (Charles Stanley), Rowan Gardner (PrecisionLife), Maina Bhaman (Sofinnova Partners), and Bradley Hardiman (Astellas Pharma). Together, they analysed the investment and dealmaking trends observed through 2023 to tell us what to expect in the year ahead.
Walker-Arnott, the Director of Private Clients at Charles Stanley and self-proclaimed ‘generalist’ on the panel, said that “the era of ‘cheap money’ is over”, which was confirmed in 2023. In this case, how should companies be going about raising funds? Hardiman, Senior Director, Ventures – Business Development at Astellas, weighed in: “You’ve got to be intentional and creative to raise funds. Don’t rely on venture.”
Hardiman continued to say that you also need luck, but that while there is a lot of serendipity involved, this has always been the case. He reminded everyone that “every company ever” has been rejected for funding at some point. Gardner added here that there are, of course, things to do to ‘stack the deck of luck’. These include the importance of focus and storytelling. “We’ve ‘professionalised’ entrepreneurship”, she says, meaning that there are a huge number of pitches at any given time. As such, it’s importance to pitch to the “shape of the letterbox”, making sure the right people are making the right connections and being introduced to the right people. With the sheer volume of companies out there, Gardner urges companies wanting to stand out to never give investors an easy ‘no’ – which an untailored pitch does, she says.
Following on from this, the panel shared ways they thought this ‘storytelling’ element could be honed. Of course, this is context dependent on the audience of the pitch, but some general advise included authenticity and the avoidance of performance-based pitching, as well as an emphasis on the team and their capabilities.
One of the final discussion points was the question of alternative funding – such as grants or crowd funding – and this was posed to the bio-dollar panel. Gardner said that she doesn’t think crowd funding is right for early stage companies in this industry. The consensus was that generalist investors don’t usually understand this stage, and that for them it’s about “giving money to people who know what they’re doing”.
What would Alexandra Gray like from the life sciences industry?
TV presenter and actress Alexandra Gray took the stage at Genesis 2023 to discuss her healthcare challenges with a rare disorder and how she has managed her condition to date. Gray discussed a protracted diagnosis and limited available treatments – as well as healthcare professionals who, by and large, didn’t provide her with what she needed at the time.
In a room full of scientists, it was a welcome change of pace to have a patient perspective and hear what Gray thought the industry needed to do in order for patients to be re-centred as the whole point of life science endeavours and strategies.
Buy, borrow or grow-your own?
As an R&D pipeline and business develops in an increasingly multi-disciplinary sector, new competencies are required to progress. This was the focus of the session moderated by DLRC’s Dianne Lee.
The panel was made up of Robert Grundy (Intelligent OMICS), Francesca Crawford (Vianautis Bio), Neil Torbett (Phoremost), Danial Rooke (Start Codon), and Alexander Henzing (Medicines Discovery Catapult). Together, they answered the question of what drives the board’s strategic decisions for growth.
Rooke, Co-founder and Partner as well as Company Secretary and General Counsel at Start Codon, put it quite simply; you need people and cash. People build businesses, and you can grow businesses without money. However, you cannot scale without investment. Crawford also weighed in on the importance, when scaling science, of bringing in appropriate outside support. For a company to succeed, you need creatives and innovators (ie. the founders) as well as executors.
And the winner is…
Before lunch, the six finalists of the 2023 Genesis BioNewsRound award had an opportunity to share a five-minute presentation. The award was created to recognise and celebrate those communicating their successes and in turn encouraging others, and the finalists were chosen based on how they have raised investment, advanced their R&D or launched a new product or service that promises great potential to improve patient outcomes.
Finalist presentations included: Neil Miller (NRG Therapeutics), Roberto Zanchi (Quadram Institute), Kat Arney (Etcembly), Amanda Lehmann (Astex), Steve Gardner (Precision Life), and John McCafferty (Maxion Therapeutics). NRG Therapeutics, a neuroscience company targeting mitochondrial dysfunction, entered on account of being awarded a second $500,000 grant from The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF), to support its lead drug discovery programme and the development of a novel treatment for Parkinson’s. Quadram Institute’s entry related to the rapid test under development by Oxford Nanopore, in collaboration with Quadram Institute, which is one of three sequencing-based tests for TB supported by the WHO in a significant step in the global fight against infectious disease. Etcembly’s entry was in relation to the techbio innovator’s lead therapeutic programme, ETC-101 – reportedly the world’s first AI-designed bispecific T cell engager. Astex was in the running on account of an exclusive worldwide research collaboration and license agreement with MSD with the goal to identify small molecule candidates with activity towards a tumour suppressor protein for the treatment of cancer. Maxion Therapeutics completion of its USD $16 million (GBP £13 million) Series A financing led to the biotech’s inclusion in the award, the funds of which will be used to support the development of novel biologics targeting ion channels and G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) via Maxion’s KnotBody platform.
The winner was PrecisionLife – and in association, LifeArc – for its strategic R&D collaboration to accelerate the discovery and development of targeted treatments for motor neurone disease (MND) – also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Lou Gehrig’s disease.