Dr. Timothy Block, President, Hepatitis B Foundation / IHVR and PA Biotechnology Center; and Professor and Director, Drexel Institute for Biotechnology and Virology Research of Drexel University College of Medicine welcomed more than 100 of the area’s leading life sciences and biotech entrepreneurs. Unable to attend, Pennsylvania State Senator Chuck McIlhinney sent remarks that Dr. Block read to the guests – designating October 21 as “Biomedical Research Day” in Pennsylvania by the state legislature, which also includes a $140 million fund for technology innovation.
Loren Danzis, a partner with Fox Rothschild, kicked off the conference presentations by addressing new trends in venture capital (VC) financing within the life sciences industry. He reviewed 29 regional companies, of which almost 50 percent were early stage – in terms of their funding sources and the funds they raised. He summarized his comments by noting that in 2012 the VC funding in life sciences is lagging behind the $30 billion invested in 2011 and that software and Internet companies have been delivering the best investment return rate.
Nick Spring, former CEO of Topaz Pharmaceutical and current CEO of Rainbow Pharma, shared his amazing story of turning a generic drug that had been shelved by a major company into a new sensation. Spring created Topaz in 2005 in Warrington, Pa., to turn ivermectin into a highly effective shampoo for head lice. He credited his success to using knowledgeable attorneys, business development and public relations firms from the beginning; not losing sight of the market potential of his product; and maximizing international opportunities for suppliers and expertise. In 2011, Topaz was bought for hundreds of millions of dollars by Sanofi-Aventis.
Jim Datin, EVP and managing director of Safeguard Scientifics and a board member of the Hepatitis B Foundation, shared how his company had such confidence in a young physician / entrepreneur at the University of Pennsylvania that they decided to invest in his company – Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which was developing a new diagnostic imaging tool for Alzheimer’s disease. Today, its diagnostic is the first of its kind to be approved by the U.S. FDA and Eli Lilly and Company recently bought Avid for more than $400 million. Safeguard reviewed more than 1,000 companies within the past year and funded only eight – Avid being one of those eight and a success story for which they are particularly proud.
Pat Higgins, the former executive vice president of Pharmasset, Inc., spoke about how Pharmasset’s revolutionary discovery of the treatment of the hepatitis C virus (HCV) resulted in arguably the biggest biotech deal of the decade – Gilead Sciences purchased Pharmasset for $11 billion in December 2011. The lead scientist for the new HCV drug is Michael Soffia, PhD, a professor with the Hepatitis B Foundation / IHVR, and also a co-founder with Higgins and Bryce Roberts in a new company focused on liver and infectious diseases called OnCore Biopharma. The company is located within the PA Biotechnology Center.
Concluding the conference on a high note, the Regional Biotech Council shared an announcement that DIGNA Biotech, a company headquartered in Spain, opened its U.S. offices in the PA Biotechnology Center. DIGNA conducts preclinical and early clinical development of select academic medical discoveries to generate robust product candidates in partnership with pharmaceutical companies for commercialization. Its four key franchises include liver diseases, dermatology, ophthalmology and critical care.
“Today we have heard some of the greatest success stories in biotech during the worst of economic times, which is good news for the local business and health community since they are rooted in our region,” said Dr. Timothy Block.
The IVHR’s Regional Biotech Council, led by William Kinney, PhD, hosts the annual biotech conference in furtherance of its mission to provide a stimulating networking environment for emerging biotech businesses in the Pennsylvania counties of Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, Philadelphia and Bucks. For more information about the Regional Biotech Council and its schedule of bi-monthly meetings, visit www.ihvr.org/
About the Institute for Hepatitis and Virus Research (IHVR): The IHVR is an independent nonprofit research institute established in 2003 by the Hepatitis B Foundation to conduct discovery research and nurture translational biotechnology in an environment conducive to interaction, collaboration and focus. To learn more, visit www.ihvr.org.
About the Hepatitis B Foundation: The Hepatitis B Foundation is the only national nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. It is headquartered in the PA Biotechnology Center, which it created and co-owns in partnership with Delaware Valley College. To learn more, go to www.hepb.org, read our blog at http://wp.hepb.org, follow us on Twitter @HepBFoundation, find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/