Reflections from LSX World Congress 

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DDW Editor Reece Armstrong and Multimedia Editor Megan Thomas attended LSX World Congress from 29-30 April in London, UK. Having attended a range of sessions and spoken to industry attendees, they reflect on the biotech arm of the event.  

Day One 

The morning of LSX was punctuated by investment sessions and pathways to market. As always with this conference, these sessions are a great indicator of market trends and a good gauge to understand how well the pharma industry is doing in terms of investment and mergers and acquisitions.  

Fortunately, the “Charting the Course: The 2024 Investment Landscape for European Biotechs” session remained cautiously positive following recent downturns in spending within the last two-to-three years. 

When asked about overall opinions on funding within the pharma sector, Woody Stileman, Managing Director of Strategic Partnerships at RTW Investments, pointed to US IPO activity that he said had improved considerably.  

Stileman noted how last year, the US had very strong activity with IPOs and that it was a trend he was expecting to continue throughout 2024. Whilst he pointed to a pause in Q1 activity this year, the fact that there have already been many initial public offerings (IPOs), with the likes of Kyverna Therapeutics raising over $300 million when it entered the market earlier this year, is a good sign of continuing recovery for the sector.  

Perspectives on the European market differed compared to the US, with a general feeling that the European market requires larger investment rounds if it is see the same levels of growth seen by the US.  

Vanessa Carle, Senior Associate at Forbion, pointed to how during Covid-19, a lot of investors shifted towards early-stage companies and now require larger levels of funding to grow. However, Carle noted that some investors haven’t been able to match and fully support developing companies, pointing to a funding gap where companies aren’t able to get to that next level of growth. In terms of the major pharma players, Carle stated that they’ve begun shifting towards larger indications to secure a large market share and are looking towards biotechs to differentiate their pipelines, largely through acquisitions.  

Technology Partnerships  

Later in the morning, the session “Finding the ‘Golden Egg’: Forging Partnerships that Transform Technologies into Therapeutic Solutions” offered valuable insights into the industry’s need for disruptive technologies and how these can impact patient pathways and the development of innovative therapeutics.  

Nerida Scott, Regional Head of EMEA at J&J Innovation, discussed how platform companies were essential in helping pharma companies understand gaps in their pipeline.  

Scott described how novel platforms can open up fascinating areas of biology, but which are very high risk in terms of developing an asset. The question for these companies is how to apply that technology to targets which can help validate that platform in an area of science where they can then de-risk the target. Whilst this might not lead to opportunities for commercialisation of a target, Scott said that it can help companies showcase their platforms and attract other pharma groups who might want to bring in their validated target for a collaboration. 

In terms of technology, artificial intelligence (AI) was brought up often, but a healthy level of scepticism was ushered alongside its terminology.  

Bradley Hardiman, Senior Director, Scouting & Transaction, Business Development at Astellas Pharma Europe, highlighted how AI had become a great buzzword for the industry but asked for firmer definitions of the technology so that the industry could actually gauge what is and what is not transformative.  

Generating value was another key topic within the discussion that pinpointed just how difficult it can be for the industry to generate strong revenues. 

Scott spoke about a report by Deloitte, which examined development pipelines by the top 20 pharma companies and which gave a return of investment for all of their combined portfolios of only 1.2%.  

“That really focuses your mind in terms of how do you actually generate really transformational value in this space,” Scott said.  

However, she did note that there are fantastic areas of biology opening up in conditions such as obesity and Alzheimer’s, and that the industry would always have big winners. However, with such fine margins for profit, companies must be wary of where they place their bets and Scott said that policies that protect things like rare and orphan diseases, and look more at patient outcomes, are very important for enabling companies to work in a space which theoretically wouldn’t generate as high revenues compared to more widescale conditions. 

Obesity 

Perhaps the highlight of the first day came from the panel discussion called, “Cardiometabolic Disease & Obesity: Unlocking Unique Partnering Opportunities for Biotech.” The session focused on the complexities of obesity as a disease, the shifting perspectives that offer new opportunities in treatment, and how companies are trying to disrupt the current therapies on the market with new, less harmful treatments. 

GLP-1 agonists have formed part of the backbone in how we now treat obesity, but the panel agreed that more work was needed in order for patients to comply longer with these treatments, which can bring about significant side effects.  

The complexity of obesity as a condition which derives from multiple sources was also discussed. Ashley Zehnder, CEO of Fauna Bio, spoke about the genetic, environmental, societal and behavioural predispositions that are seen across patients with obesity, but noted that not all patients share the same traits. Zehnder pointed to a need for better genetic information and biomarkers that can help break down the obesity market into smaller segments that will enable drug developers to potentially target specific sub-populations.  

Steffen-Sebastian Bolz, CSO at Aphaia Pharma, spoke about the importance of understanding the behavioural problems behind obesity. Bolz said that eating patterns in people with obesity must be understood but also the biological mechanisms behind things such as fat storage and metabolic rates.  

He went further to say that hormone replacement therapies to lose weight can be misleading. Whilst the availability of a therapy to reduce weight is important, if we do not place a focus on the behavioural aspects, then patients can rebound and gain weight again. Bolz went on to discuss how the gastrointestinal tract can govern brain function and dictate behaviour. By interfering with this process and understanding the molecular constructs within this part of the body, Bolz believes this will enable a more comprehensive approach to treating obesity.  

Other aspects of the session covered the adjacent treatments that obesity pipelines can bring to companies in this sector. Zehnder discussed how animal models of obesity offer R&D opportunities to pharma companies and helps them to target obesity-related diseases. The panel agreed that conditions such as chronic renal disease, type 2 diabetes, metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH) and even muscle loss were areas where the industry could work adjacent to obesity.  

Day Two 

Although slightly shorter, the second day of the congress was equally in-depth and informative – particularly regarding the future for the biotech and pharma industry. The welcome address was followed by a presentation, “Unlocking Customer Engagement Strategies in Biotech and Pharma: Building Stronger Relationships for Sustainable Success”, which explored what the next ‘ground-breaking’ solution to enhance customer relationships will be, reflecting on the influence of omnichannel approaches and the impact of AI.  

Between Diana Placido, Chief Digital Officer of ViiV Healthcare, Andrew Binns, Head of Digital Innovation at AstraZeneca, Mira Nebbache, Global Digital Product Owner at Sanofi, and Marc Sluijs, Managing Partner at DigitalHealth.Network, the speakers covered the power of tailoring interactions to individual customer needs and preferences, leveraging data analytics and AI-driven insights, focusing on the unmet need for patients, exploring the role of technology in modern customer engagement, key performance indicators and best practices for evaluating the effectiveness of customer engagement initiatives, as well as how best to provide for customers in a fluctuating environment.  

Following on from this discussion was a keynote presentation on building a global biotech and innovation ‘beyond boundaries’, which was given by Jan Van de Winkel, CEO of Genmab, and moderated by Ben Hohn, Principal, BD, Pipeline and Launch Stratefy and ZS Associates. In what resembled a fireside chat, the two discussed the process of transforming an idea into a global pharmaceutical commercial entity, highlighting the need for companies to balance their short-term objectives with building long-term sustainability and growth.  

Biotech stage  

Several organisations were showcasing in 2024 on the Biotech Stage, an opportunity window of just 15 minutes for biotech leaders to inform the audience of their work and its significance in the market. Highlights included presentations from WntResearch and Dunad Therapeutics. 

WntResearch is a Swedish company developing the drug candidate Foxy-5, intended to inhibit metastases. It is currently being evaluated in a clinical Phase II study called NeoFox.  

UK-based Dunad Therpapeutics presented on its mission in the development of next-generation targeted protein degradation therapies, using the company’s small molecule platform that induces targeted degradation of disease-causing proteins via direct modulation of the target protein’s surface topology. 

Innovation, TTO & Academic Campus  

Hosted by Boehringer Ingelheim, this poster feature of the event offered academic founders, technology transfer organisation representatives or executives from life science spin-outs and start-ups the opportunity to raise awareness of their commercialisation-read research and technology, or the company’s drug discovery, pre-clinical or clinical-stage assets. While each were informative and rich in detail, the following stood out.  

According to BiPER Therapeutics, 50% of patients suffering from cancer remain without solutions despite growing success of immunotherapies, existing chemotherapies and the development of targeted therapies. As such, this company’s poster explained how BiPER Therapeutics can bring solutions to those patients through the modulation of new pathways to treat patients. This is done by focusing on solid tumours with priority for indications with orphan status. BPR001-615 is one of the company’s clinical candidates in preclinical regulatory studies, less than one year from the clinic; BPR002 is a candidate to treat solid tumours in IND enabling studies which is 18 months from the clinic; and BPR003 is in discovery phase.  

MetaCurUm is developing a therapeutic mAb and CDx in prostate cancer by binding to the TGFβ and blocking receptor cleavage. They have a candidate drug that is affinity maturated and fully human ready to enter pre-clinical development. In terms of biomarkers, the cleaved TGFbRI, the ICD, can be used as a marker to select for patients and follow treatment outcome (CDx). Moreover, the nuclear complexes of ICD formed can be used to access tumour aggressiveness and guide treatment choices in patients with prostate cancer. The company’s strategy is to develop the CDx in parallel with the therapy, and the broader biomarker in collaboration with a partner. As the company looks to go into full pre-clinical development, they are seeking funding to conduct tox studies, process scale-up and a clinical trial.  

EU HTA regulation  

Given the European presence in the room – and at LSX World Congress at large – the after-lunch keynote plenary on the EU HTA regulation impact on biotech and pharma in Europe was particularly well attended. On paper, the new European Pharmaceutical Legislation is positioned to reshape the biotechnology landscape on the continent… but with 27 member states to appease, this is not as simple a process off paper.  

Guided by moderator Thomas Lönngren, Strategic Regulatory Advisor of NDA Group, the panellists discussed this nuanced but promising legislation and what lies in store for European biotech and pharma. The experts covered the potential scenarios ahead, how the industry can best prepare to mitigate risk and take advantage of opportunities, how the industry can work together to ensure a thriving biotech ecosystem amidst the proposed legislative changes, and how the changes may alter the industry’s approach to the EU market. They even endeavoured to answer an arguably tricky and open-ended question from Lönngren: “But will it work?”  

Chantal Van Gils, Advisory Board Director, Global Epidemiology & Real-World Evidence at NDA Group, said: “It will include trial and error, but one that will hopefully result in a more unified system for all member states”. 

Preparing for and completing an IPO  

The final keynote of day two looked into what to many would be considered a ‘second full-time job’ – the process of preparing and completing an IPO. “Is this the year that biotech IPO’s recover?” is what the panel were tasked with discussing, and in doing so looked at current market trends, recent success, the overview of 2024 in the context of IPOs, as well as future predictions for the market.  

A key takeaway from this was, regardless of whether it’s this year or next, or even further along the line, a biotech company should always be ready to go. Waiting or trying to predict when exactly the timing is right only leaves room for panic, and being prepared for anything is what will enable a company to truly thrive in what is a difficult and rapidly changing business environment.  

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