BioPharm America™ 2015 – Day 2 Recap

September 17, 2015 Erin Righetti

_MG_0990Program Highlights and Snippets

Biotech Startup Day at BioPharm America™ 2015 started on Wednesday morning with an alternative partners roundtable featuring moderator Angus McQuilken of Massachusetts Life Science Center (MLSC) and panelists Christopher de Souza of Broadview Ventures; Gary Sclar of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; and Baiju Shah of BioMotiv. Here are some snippets:

  • Alternative partners strive to bring people therapies as soon as possible. “You have to always leave room for change, because things change as you go,” said Sclar.
  • The focus is on discovery partners. “There are wonderful opportunities out there due to the absence in the space of traditional forms of capital,” said Shah.
  • Regarding international partnerships, they are seeing a high degree of interest from family offices. “What we’re finding now is European and US consortiums are coming to visit to ask us ‘how can we build that infrastructure?’” said Sclar. “They come to us for leadership advice. That’s an opportunity for everyone.”
  • “Our business is a relationship business,” said Frew, “so you need to come in with a commitment to build the relationship. I’ve seen faculty members stop deals dead in the water because they just didn’t trust the person across the table.”
  • When dealing with faculty, it is important to establish trust early on. “For you, as the partner, you have to show us you’re the right partner.” said Sclar. “I want to talk to as many people as possible. The more thoughtful you are, the easier it is for me to open the doors.”
  • What really turns them, off, said Shah, is when a VC partner comes to them with a pitch deck “but has no idea what we do or about our company.”


The pharma roundtable was moderated by Ed Saltzman of Defined Health with panelists Frank Borriello of Baxalta; Kara Bortone of Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS; Paola Casarosa of Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH; and Tomas Landh of Novo Nordisk. Some highlights were:

  • Pharma companies have changed and are investing in more risky endeavors, according to Saltzman.
  • Bontone agreed that they are focused on very early stage. “For us, it’s all about building relationships. A lot of times we start out with a company that is not of strategic interest, but they pivot, we pivot, and they become a target for collaboration.”
  • Casarosa said, “Historically speaking, early stage opportunities have really been the core of our activities. I always say you can never be too early. In terms of what we are looking for, we don’t have a general recipe.” She also said that having a concept in mind is the best way to approach a collaboration. “It’s your business card, if you come to the table knowing what you’re talking about. And that comes up pretty fast,” she said.
  • “We engage very early on; I get concept papers from researchers in diabetes,” said Landh. “There is still a lot of unmet need [in diabetes] and passion beyond what you see in other areas. So at the early stage, we want to see what we can help with.”
  • “We focus on early stage research but they have to have platform potential,” said Borriello. “If you can’t share your vision and strategy, the deal is not going to happen.”


The investor roundtable was moderated by Steve Dickman of CBT Advisors, with panelists Marian Nakada of Johnson & Johnson Innovation; Marta New of Baxalta Ventures; Isai Peimer of MedImmune Ventures; and Robert Weisskoff of Fidelity Biosciences. Some excerpts from that discussion include:

  • “There are more good ideas than there are people, time and effort,” said Weisskoff.
  • Peimer said that there is a renewed interest in doing innovative investing. “When you think about early stage, we don’t want to be sandwiched between a rock and a hard place.”


An afternoon regenerative medicine and advanced therapies media roundtable brought experts in the field together to discuss the current state of the sector and challenges that still need to be resolved. One of the biggest hurdles is still manufacturing and scale-up ability to enable regen med therapies to get to commercialization. An interesting point was made by Stephen Potter of AGTC, who stated that the field is moving into more traditional approaches including data and clinical trials. Potter said the whole shape of the industry has changed from science fiction to medicine. There’s no question that cell therapies are going to have a transformative impact. The question now is, “is it deliverable?” added Potter. “Is cell therapy a product? We are putting things into patients and we don’t know what the ‘product’ is,” echoed Brock Reeve of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute (HSCI). However, it is only a matter of time before these technologies mature. “It took 25 years for antibodies to become mainstream therapeutics; gene therapy is on the same trajectory,” said Potter.


The day was capped by the Biotech Startup Day pitch session moderated by Doug MacDougall of MacDougall Biomedical Communications, which brought very early stage companies to present in front of a panel of investors, including Jeffrey Arnold of Mass Med Angels and Boston Harbor Angels; Thomas Luby of Johnson & Johnson Innovation; Ivana Magovcevic-Liebisch of Teva Pharmaceuticals; Jason Rhodes of Atlas Venture; and S. Edward Torres of Lilly Ventures.

Biotech Startup Day #BPA15

R to L: Thomas Luby of Johnson & Johnson Innovation; Aman Iqbal of Proteorex; Ming-Zher Poh of Cardiio; and Anna Chrisman of EBD Group

Johnson & Johnson Innovation presentation of Biotech Startup Day prize

The session was followed by the Johnson & Johnson Innovation presentation of the Biotech Startup Day prize. The winner of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Startup Day competition grand prize went to Proteorex Therapeutics Inc. for their innovative technology and services to support drug discovery. As the grand prize winner of the competition Proteorex Therapeutics Inc. will have the opportunity to gain access to the use of one bench at a Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS location for three months and six months of mentorship from a Johnson & Johnson Innovation team member.


Cardiio, Inc. based in Cambridge, MA, was chosen from among 20 pre-selected startups who participated in an open mic pitch contest at Biotech Startup Day. Cardiio, Inc. will receive a presentation slot at, and complimentary full access registration to, the 2016 BioPharm America event from EBD Group. Read the press release here.


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