Phacilitate's Kim Barnes gives her account of the Advanced Therapies Network investment meeting in London
On Tuesday 14th May I attended an Advanced Therapies Network (ATN) event, which focused on investment with a great range of investors and biotechs providing insight on their investment journey in advanced therapies.
Amongst all the content and networking, there were two presentations that really stood out. Firstly, Chris Williams from Autolus shared his journey from UCL spin out to a successful public company. Also, Alex Blyth from LIfT presented his personal story on creating the world's first cell bank of cancer-killing neutrophils to destroy all solid tumours, irrespective of strain or mutation. It was fascinating to understand the two different journeys these biotechs have been on and their perspective on how to attract investment.
Then, there was a panel of investors from F-Prime Capital, Albion UCL tech fund, Cambridge Enterprise, SV Health Investors and Syncona. The group discussed how they approach working with a company to make sure it reaches its full potential. It was an insightful discussion, below are my key takeaways.
1. Building the right team. Recruiting the right management board is vital and scientific founders are key to this. Companies are built on great science and having a leading academic at the heart of the organisation instils confidence in investors, however, that science does need to be translated into a commercial product. The majority of scientific founders are not commercial so you need to bring in a great CSO who can manage a team but more importantly someone who the scientific founder agrees with. Aside from the science, finding the right manufacturing expert is crucial and is the second person an investor would look at hiring. CSOs and manufacturing leaders are hard to come by in this industry as they will need to have a unique skill set, so recruitment is top of the agenda for an investor. Finding great people for advanced therapies in Europe is difficult. Sana based in Cali has recruited 80 people in two months – even if you had all the money in the world you wouldn’t be able to do that in Europe because of the huge skills gap
2. The US vs the UK? There is a lack of capital in Europe and, as such, companies don’t have the money to take their therapies to market. The result is that you see these companies partnering with big pharma. Company valuations for advanced therapy biotechs are stopping more European investors from parting with their money because it is a high-risk investment, people have to accept there will be failures. Although, it was also suggested that the early stage investor base in the UK is as comfortable with risk as those investors in the US
3. Manufacturing capacity is one of the biggest challenges in Europe. There is an opportunity to improve the manufacturing infrastructure but not on an individual company basis, rather it should be done at a government level
4. How early do investors think about reimbursement strategies? Investors address this before they invest in the company. The focus isn’t so much on the reimbursement model, but they do look at the patient benefit and how much payers will cover for this therapy
5. The next generation. The clinical proof of concept is widely accepted and, as such, investors are looking at advanced therapies as credible opportunities. These are high-risk products and investors are keeping close tabs on what happens with the next generation of advanced therapies; although there have been some successes, there are still a lot of challenges to overcome.
All in all, it was a great evening of learning and networking. I’m looking forward to the next meeting, which will be part of Phacilitate Leaders Europe this September in London. Reimbursement models, patient access and clinical data are all on the agenda for September. If you would like to find more about the Advanced Therapies Network or become a member please visit www.advancedtxnetwork.co.uk.
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