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Perspectives from the January 2020 J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference

by  Nate Hughes, MPP, MPH Johns Hopkins Alumnus  

Attracting upwards of 20,000 people in biotech, healthcare, venture capital and investment banking, the 38th annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference took place on January 13-16th, 2020. Attendees gathered in San Francisco to pitch their companies, forge deals and discuss the future of the $3.5 trillion health sector.  I wanted to highlight a few companies in the Biotech Showcase pitch sessions which I found particularly interesting.  

The first one is Anixa Biosciences, a chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) company, from San Jose, led by a former venture capitalist, Dr. Amit Kumar. Anixa Biosciences raised a total of $11.8M in funding over 6 financing rounds. Additionally, Anixa Bio is collaborating on a new program with the Cleveland Clinic: a vaccine for triple negative and other types of breast cancer. This academic/ investigator-initiated trial is funded by a $6.2 million dollar Department of Defense (DOD) grant that will cover all the remaining pre-clinical work and two phase 1 trials.1 The investigational new drug application (IND) has currently been submitted to the FDA. Building on research from the Cleveland Clinic, where scientists identified a protein normally present in healthy breast tissue only during lactation which is misexpressed in triple negative breast cancer, Anixa hopes to use their platform to target this protein.2  

The second one is AgeX Therapeutics from Alameda, CA, whose company focuses on reversing cellular aging processes. As a subsidiary of BioTime, AgeX successfully completed a $10 million raise. Their preclinical proprietary platform is called induced Tissue Regeneration (iTR™), which utilizes advances in cellular pluripotency and bioinformatics technologies to perform research on cellular immortality and regenerative biology, comparing cells in the first stages of life with those in old age.3 The goal of this platform is to use cellular transcriptional reprogramming to enhance tissue regeneration, as cells’ ability to do this is frequently impaired in aging or diseases of aging.

Another interesting company I met with is Navenga Therapeutics, initially spun out of  UCSD, and currently based in J Labs San Diego. Navenga has identified a naturally-occurring mutation in the human genome where people feel no pain whatsoever, and modeled a gene therapy treatment based on this mutation to be used against chronic pain. With goals of utilizing their therapies in the fight against the opiod epidemic, Navenga’s team is led by a vibrant team of scientists, including CEO Dr. Ana Moreno, and Co-founder and CSO, Dr. Fernando Aleman.  

Lastly, Acepodia, a US-Taiwan joint company based out of Burlingame, CA, has raised over $33 million for their novel Antibody Cell-Conjugation (ACCTM) platform.4 With a PhD in Chemistry from Berkeley, at the helm, named Sonny Hsiao, and some pioneering CAR-T leaders in the field on their management team, such as Pat Yang (formerly of Juno Tx), Acepodia recently received IND approval, allowing them to initiate a Phase 1 clinical study of its natural killer (NK) cell therapy using their lead drug candidate in patients with HER2+ solid tumors. 

One of the more interesting sessions was on the presidential election this year and the future of the biotech and pharma industries entitled “The Upcoming Election and Its Potential Impact on the Biopharma Industry.” Chaired by James Greenwood, president and CEO of BIO, the most interesting comments came from Jeremy Levin, Chairman and CEO of Ovid Therapeutics. Jeremey put some of the blame on the drug pricing issues on industry executives themselves, having created unbridled pricing structures to begin with, and should, therefore, responsibly repair them. He also pushed back on any accusations that a Democratic presidential win would create an opening for socialism or a socialist-style economy – “there will never be socialism in this country. Never,” he stated.  

Against an infrastructure of $2,000 hotel rooms, $300 lobby tables, and $21 cups of coffee, there is discussion about moving JP Morgan to Las Vegas, or another city, in upcoming years.  

Sources: 

  1. PRNewswire, Anixa Biosciences announces a stategic alliance and licensing aggreement with Cleveland Clinic for an innovative breast cancer vaccine technology (2019)
  2. Introduction:: Anixa Biosciences, Inc. (ANIX) (2020)
  3. AgeX Therapeutics Our Technology (2018)
  4. GlobeNewswire, Acepodia Announces FD

 

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