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BioPharm Executive: J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference Sets the Tone for 2010

1/25/2010 1:46:14 PM

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J.P Morgan Healthcare Conference Sets the Tone for 2010

Another year kicks off, another J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco (the 28th!) comes and goes. Perhaps you were there. Or perhaps you're just too great a respecter of fire codes to jam yourself into the atherosclerotic hallways of the Westin St. Francis.

No matter. Between blog posts and twitter feeds, one could easily keep up in real time. (Or better than real time, since the burden of the flesh limits us to being in one place at a time, while a truly dedicated Twitterphile can be in many places at once). And in case all that wasn't enough, J.P. Morgan did a four-hour (!!) conference call for clients recapping the whole thing.

If the event is a barometer for the year to come in biotech, then 2010 looks a lot more promising than last year, when a downcast crowd moped around for most of a week before heading home to sell everything they owned. This year, the Nasdaq Biotech Index and the AMEX Pharmaceutical Index broke out to a new 52-week highs as the conference wrapped up, and went briefly higher afterward (last year, it was in the process of plunging). At least one tweet declared it to be the best business development environment ever.

In the spirit of offering a monthly digest of industry events, I read through a half dozen-or-so take-away summaries of the meeting in order to assemble a sort of meta-take-away. It seems that nearly everyone who commented on the mood felt a sense of renewed optimism. A banner year for follow-on offerings, second only to the go-go days of 2000 (see Money Talk, below) was one big reason. So were positive stock market returns for the sector. But it was also pointed out that it was a year of haves and have-nots, and that the outlook is still very uncertain for private companies and smaller companies with products still far from the market.

A lot of good will, then, but few clear signposts for 2010. I think we can still expect a smaller industry coming out of 2010 than we saw going into it, which should be a good thing. And I think we'll see a few more companies reach biotech's top tier. But we'll have to wait to see if a real appetite for risk--rather than a mere willingness to back companies with products about to launch--returns to the market in full force.

On another subject altogether, it's not often that you see the father-turned-biotech-CEO-as-hero meme played out in a Hollywood film. But that's changed with the opening this week of Extraordinary Measures, the story of John Crowley--now CEO of Amicus Therapeutics--and his efforts to create a drug that could save his two children suffering from Pompe disease. The company he took the reins of, Novazyme, was acquired by Genzyme in 2001.

Just to make it a little more timely, Genzyme is pushing once again for approval of Myozyme, the Pompe disease treatment it eventually developed and got approved in over 40 countries (see Rockville Files, below). While the drug got FDA approval in 2006, it is currently indicated only for infants and children and is made in very small batches. Attempting to scale up commercial production uncovered a number of problems at one of the company's manufacturing plants and has kept the drug, rebranded Lumizyme, off the market except by a special access program. Here's hoping the third times is the charm.

- Karl Thiel

Read the BioPharm Executive online newsletter January 2010.

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