The 36th annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference was held this week in San Francisco, bringing together more than 400 companies to showcase their growth and innovation. Most of these presentations were webcast. Here are some of the highlights and announcements we’ve collected from the conference.
Philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, gave a keynote the first day of #JPM18, in which he addressed global health, particularly the possibilities that exist at the intersection of global health and the private sector. Full text of his prepared remarks can be found here.
During the Q&A portion of the keynote, Gates and Sanjay Gupta, Chief Medical Correspondent at CNN, discussed a plethora of topics as they related to the idea of global health and its potential. “Everyone is trying to come up with some assay or test so you can make your decision about whether something will work early on,” Gates said when asked about what solutions he sees as promising. “… in infectious disease there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit out there.”
Gupta pointed to examples like the Chinese government funding a global health drug discovery institute in Beijing as a great incentive for growth in drug discovery in the US. Gupta mentioned that the China has increased funding for research by about 33%, and guessed that it could outpace US investments by 2022. Gates called that a “goofy measurement” that doesn’t take into account differences between basic research and company funding. But even so, Gates says anything that makes us raise our funding is fine.
The issue, in Gates’ opinion, loops back to drug pricing. “The current system [of drug discovery in the US being funded by the government] works very, very well,” he said. It’s only that drug pricing is a tough space, and people don’t know what the drug pricing algorithms should be, that causes the public to look into increasing the federal funding.
“I think the boundary between research and incentives for companies to go do what’s very hard work, that’s OK,” Gates said. “Drug pricing [is what] we need to work on. It’s not easy to come up with the right answer that still incentivizes innovation.”
Companies Update on Sequencing, Gene Editing, Diagnostics & More
At her presentation at #JPM18, Katrine Bosley, CEO of Editas Medicine, focused much of her summary on Editas future developing ophthalmic medicines, and also announced that Editas has agreed to acquire the assets and capabilities of i2 Pharmaceuticals, “a specialist in RNA chemistry, oligonucleotide chemistry,” Bosley said. RNA is a critical part of CRISPR medicine, she pointed out. The i2 acquisition will “bring proprietary classes of guide RNAs to Editas with distinct intellectual property underpinning this work.”
Editas is the first company able to edit genes in the eye, Bosley said. She said the company plans to file a new drug application on EDIT-101, the company’s first product candidate, in mid-2018. EDIT-101 is being developed to rescue vision in Leber’s congenital amaurosis type 10, a rare, inherited disease that causes blindness. There’s no approved treatment for LCA-10, though at least one other company is pursuing a therapy. EDIT-101 is an injectable medication that will edit CEP290 within the eye, and restore photoreceptors in the eye. Editas has estimated that a 10% threshold of editing is needed for a “meaningful result” for patients. In non-human primate tests, the company has seen levels of editing up to 50%. Bosley reported. The company hopes to apply EDIT-101 success to other vision diseases caused by degeneration of photoreceptors. Editas has a partnership with Allergan and the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Institute to apply similar technology to treat Usher Syndrome Type 2A. The company is also pursuing treatment for ocular herpes simplex virus.
Bosley also reported a fruitful collaboration with Juno Therapeutics on the engineered cell medicine pipeline. “Our shared goal with Juno is to be able to expand the range of cancers that could be treated with CAR T and engineered T cells. In the time we and Juno have worked today, we’ve made tremendous progress in a number of programs,” Bosley said. She reported new work with Juno to develop an engineered TCR candidate for HPV-associated solid tumors, specifically targeting intracellcular antigen targets.
NanoString President and CEO, Brad Gray, outline the future for the NanoString family of instruments: nCounter SPRINT, MAX, and FLEX. With about 15,000 nCounter potential placements, the market is only 1% to 7% penetrated, Gray said. The SPRINT, an integrated benchtop system for research labs, accounts for about half of the 600-system worldwide install rate. “85% of our system placements were driven by cancer research and diagnostics,” Gray said. He noted that consumable sales have remained fairly flat, and product and services have slowed compared to previous years. But the company has made “overdue changes to commercial leadership,” Gray said, having eliminated about 30 positions in Q4. Oncology has driven company growth over the past four years, Gray said, and the company wants to expand beyond oncology into new therapeutic areas. In 2018, NanoString plans to ship Digital Spatial Profiling instruments for its early access program and is forecasting a 2020 commercial launch of its Hyb & Seq, single-molecule direct digital sequencing technology.
Mike Hunkapiller at Pacific Biosciences spent the beginning of his podium time at JP Morgan seemingly educating the audience on PacBio’s sequencing strategy. “Unlike the short reach technologies that are really well-developed by companies like Illumina who focus on very, very large numbers of short read sequencing, we focus on more modest numbers of sequencing samples, but we extract much more information out of each piece of DNA that we’re looking at. Average read lengths are now well in excess of 10,000 base pairs. The longest reads being… well over 100,000 base pairs.” PacBio has been steadily improving the performance of the system both by improving throughput for each SMRT cell run and by improving the bioinformatics. Hunkapiller reported an install base of 370 units—a mix of the older RS II platform and the newer Sequel. China is the biggest market, and plant and animal genome research is the biggest application. While the PacBio platform excels at very large, polyploidy genomes, Hunkapiller highlighted work in human genetics as well, particularly efforts to build localized reference genomes for different ethnic groups, capturing genetic diversity, including structural variations.
In keeping with JP Morgan traditions of years past, Illumina president and CEO Francis deSouza announced the launch of a new sequencing system, the iSeq 100 Sequencing System. Formerly known as Firefly, the iSeq 100 is a semiconductor sequencing platform. deSouza also announced a library prep partnership with Thermo Fisher.
QIAGEN delved into their announced partnership with DiaSorin, adding that the 4th generation of their QuantiFERON-TB diagnostic test would be launched in Japan soon in accordance to DiaSorin’s menu of automated analyzers. “The QuantiFERON test is very different to most tests in that the test is not performed on a machine, per se, it’s performed at collection in the tube,” Peer Schatz, CEO of QIAGEN, said during his presentation. “That is the core part of the QuantiFERON test.”
QIAGEN also announced new COO-type services to help their customers develop and validate gene panels that they can use inhouse. Schatz said this can remove a significant hurdle in adopting next generation sequencing for customers. “The quality of these diagnostics tests should not be compromised.”
QIAGEN also announced that they have supplied their HPV portfolio in China into a minority-controlled company.
During last year’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Foundation Medicine chairman Michael Pellini spoke about a “universal diagnostic containing all the companion diagnostic tests approved for cancer care, information to guide immunotherapy decisions, details on tumor-mutation burden, and information on microsatellite instability—all of it presented in context to help physicians make decisions.”
The company was able to present the results of such a test, following the FDA approval for their Foundation One CDX broad companion diagnostic. Foundation Medicine expects the National Coverage Determination (NCD) from CMS and Medicare to be finalized by February 28 of this year, Foundation Medicine’s CEO Troy Cox announced during his presentation during #JPM18. “We look to operationalize that [NCD] through securing a unique code for Foundation One CDX, and that in essence is going to mark the launch of Foundation One CDX.”
Foundation One CDX is “highly actionable” comprehensive companion diagnostic assay for personalized oncology care, according to Cox. 35% of patients are matched to an FDA-approved therapy.
Veeva Systems is on the path to become a multi-billion dollar cloud leader, the company’s president and co-founder, Matt Wallach, said during his presentation. Using their software services and data, Veeva is trying to help improve the performance of the entire cloud-computing industry.
“We’re continuing to innovate so that we can continue to plant seeds for the future so that growth is going to be consistent and long term,” Wallach said.
One way Veeva is looking to stand out in the industry is through Veeva Vault, a cloud enterprise content management platform and suite of applications built specifically for life sciences. Vault is unique in software as a service and in life sciences, Wallach said. “We’re set up for long-term strategic leadership in big markets that are important to life sciences, and we’re going to continue to be unafraid to invent new things and do things our way.”
Veeva announced Veeva Vault Safety, an umbrella of Vault that helps drug safety departments increase efficiency and maintain compliance in managing safety processes. Veeva will continue building Safety this year, and will look to begin selling in 2019.
Synzi announced a new investment from Kinderhook Industries forming a new separate entity from language services company, Stratus Video.
Synzi’s platform brings together several methods of communications which enhance the telehealth marketplace. The platform improves patient interactions by leveraging mobile devices to strengthen engagement, optimize health outcomes and reduce costs. For health systems, the platform offers on-demand video capabilities that enable virtual consults for urgent care and mental health, as well as virtual visits which optimize care post-discharge. For health plans, the platform streamlines care management programming and increases engagement amongst members at risk for readmission. Uniquely, Synzi can also service limited English proficiency (LEP) and the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing patient population with direct access to a video interpreter.