Closing out MassBio’s 2015 Annual Meeting, economist Andrew Lo—a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people—presented attendees with a possible solution to one of our biggest challenges: curing cancer.
“We have some of the world’s most advanced healthcare centers within walking distance, as well as the world’s best academic centers and the world’s most vibrant biotech community,” said Lo. “But we also have one of the world’s largest asset management centers. We ought to bring that element into the discussion.”
Lo said that while many investors are currently putting their money in “lower hanging fruit,” they should collectively be looking at the bigger picture. He shared his vision of Massachusetts curing cancer through a creative megafund, advised by a board of scientific and business experts. If even eight percent of the state’s population invested $3,000 of their 401K in the fund, that would equal $30 billion to be invested in a multitude of cancer projects.
“Out of 150 investments, there’s a 99.95 percent chance that at least one will succeed,” said Lo. “You’re almost assured a guaranteed success. Diversification changes the risk of the business.”
More than 400 biotechnology industry leaders gathered for the Annual Meeting, held at the Royal Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge. It took place over two days, March 26-27, and included discussions on precision medicine, defining value, reimbursement and market access, innovative ways to fund early-stage companies and more.
The event’s opening keynote speaker, Kathy Guisti, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, shared her vision of a world where patients better understand their
disease, even as that disease evolves and changes.
“As a patient myself, I knew my genomics early on,” said Guisti, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 1996. “I’d like to see a world where every patient knows their risk, subtype and
mutation. With myeloma, there’s a constant need for innovation because of the high risk of relapse, which is why it’s important to understand the genomics of our disease. I’ve often found myself acting like a concierge, guiding people to the right questions and experts.”
Since establishing the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation in 1998, seven new drugs have been approved, nearly 30 treatments are in clinical trials and the life expectancy for patients has tripled. The foundation’s CoMMpass Study is helping researchers gain access to each patient’s genetic analysis and learn how patients respond to therapies, and the resulting data is placed on a public portal. Guisti said the more information patients give, the more their specific journeys can be mapped out for them.
“To truly bring value to patients, speed and efficiency are critical parts of the equation,” said Guisti. “Every patient gets up and puts their feet on the ground for one reason—the hope that there will be a cure in their lifetime. I have been given so much time. I’m standing here today because of companies that believed in drug development. Know the importance of what you’re doing and how much we appreciate it. If I’m this grateful, multiply that by hundreds of thousands.”
During a conference-wide session on precision medicine, panelist Susan Hager, Vice President of Communications and Government Affairs of Foundation Medicine, followed up on Guisti’s vision of strengthening communication and information sharing to advance research and drug development.
“If we look at cancer not as a disease of the body part but as a disease of the genome, we’ll be able to match the right person with the right treatment at the right time, based on their genomic profile,” said Hager. “As a patient, you don’t have months and months to get educated. It’s overwhelming. When patients come to us, we hope to empower them with a comprehensive profile to truly understand their genetic drivers.”
The panel also included David Altshuler, Executive Vice President of Global Research and Chief Scientific Officer of Vertex Pharmaceuticals; Walter Carney, Chief Scientific Officer and General Manager of Nuclea Diagnostics; and moderator Jeff Elton, Managing Director of Life Science at Accenture.
“Advocacy is so important,” said Carney. “We need to educate the population more about what’s available to them. Not all diagnostics are created equal and we as consumers need to be getting the right information.”
During a panel on defining value, Sarah Emond, Chief Operating Officer of the lnstitute for Clinical and Economic Review, defined the value of a product in two ways: (1) is it affordable, and (2) does it work?
“If manufacturers have dialogue with patients and insurers up front, they can better work within their expectations,” said Emond. Other panelists included Christopher Hansen, President of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Inc., and William Sibold, Senior Vice President and Head of Multiple Sclerosis at Genzyme. MassBio Board Chair Glenn Batchelder, Founder of Civitas Therapeutics, served as moderator.
“Foundations like the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation or the Michael J. Fox Foundation do a good job in engaging the patient in the process,” said Batchelder. “The more involved they are in the conversation, the more they’ll understand what’s available to them.”
Also at the meeting, MassBio celebrated its 30th anniversary and unveiled a new mission statement: to advance Massachusetts’ leadership in the life sciences to grow the industry, add value to the healthcare system and improve patient lives.
“We are taking time this year to reflect back on where we’ve been and the people and companies who have made us what we are today, while at the same time engaging in the conversations that will define who we will be 30 years from now,” said MassBio President and CEO Robert K. Coughlin.
“This is an industry that in some ways has progressed light years since 1985. Today, Massachusetts is home to nearly 60,000 biopharma employees, 21 million square feet of lab space and companies with 1,500 drug candidates in the pipeline.”
Coughlin recognized his predecessors as CEO of MassBio, Janice Bourque and former House speaker Thomas F. Finneran, who were both in attendance. He also installed seven new board members: Tim Clackson of ARIAD Pharmaceuticals, Chris Garabedian, Sam Guhan of Amgen, Melissa Bradford Klug of AMAG Pharmaceuticals, Antony Loevel of Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, John Orloff of Baxter BioScience and Michael Pellini of Foundation Medicine.
Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash introduced himself to attendees, pledging the Baker administration’s commitment to advancing the Massachusetts life sciences industry.
During the awards ceremony, Mark Levin, co-founder of Third Rock Ventures and an industry leader with 40 years of experience, was presented with the 2014 Henri A. Termeer Innovative Leadership Award for his passion for improving patient lives through disruptive technologies and innovative science.
“Mark personally mentored many of the leaders in Boston’s biotech community,” said Batchelder, who worked with Levin at Millennium Pharmaceuticals. “Delivery on his bold vision during those early days set the stage for innovation in our industry today.”
“What a privilege it’s been to work with so many visionaries in this industry,” said Levin. “If you put together great people, you can do anything.”
Levin, who started out in Silicon Valley and described Boston as evolving from “sleepy town” to the hub of activity, spoke about bridging territories in order to advance more therapies and cures.
“The tools and technology of our future are not all here in Massachusetts,” said Levin. “How do we work with Silicon Valley or with China to do what’s best for patients? We want to be No. 1, but we need to work together in this global setting to make a difference.”
The Joshua Boger Innovative School of the Year Award was presented to Barnstable High School. Barnstable was selected as a BioTeach School in 2013 and has since established a “Biotech Bio-Wide” goal to bring biotechnology to all its students. The school has added a forensics and biotechnology class and a pathology and biotechnology class. Student interest and enrollment has
increased, and Barnstable has enriched its science program through new external partnerships and studentdriven research projects.
“I would love to continue my learning and will major in bioengineering next year,” said Barnstable High student Sabrina Doherty. “Being able to go through the techniques in the labs, using the equipment we’ve been given, really helped solidify my decision to pursue this path.”
Dr. Michael F. Collins, Chancellor of UMASS Medical School was presented with the MassBio Leading Impact Award for his work across the university to forge new and innovative partnerships with the life sciences industry. The award was accepted by Brendan O’Leary, Executive Vice Chancellor of Innovation and Business Development.