New York Life Sciences 2031: OrbiMed’s Sam Isaly on Genomics, Health Reform, and Biotech’s Future

9/22/11Follow @arleneweintraub

Sam Isaly, the founder and managing partner of OrbiMed Advisors in New York, will bring a breadth of investing experience and range of perspectives to Xconomy’s first New York event—Life Sciences 2031, a panel discussion on October 13. OrbiMed operates healthcare hedge funds, private equity funds, and mutual funds, including the Eaton Vance Worldwide Health Sciences Fund, which Isaly manages. In August, OrbiMed closed a new $600 million fund called Royal Opportunities, which will acquire healthcare royalty streams and provide structured debt capital to companies in the industry.

Isaly thinks of his approach to investing as “the endless pursuit of the new,” he says. He loves to describe his experience having his own genome sequenced, and likens himself as an investor who’s ahead of the curve when it comes to spotting innovations in health care.

The topic of genomics and personalized medicine is sure to be a hot one at Xconomy’s forum—and that suits Isaly just fine. “We have multiple interfaces with next-generation sequencing,” he says of OrbiMed’s investment portfolio. For example, one of the top 25 holdings in the Eaton Vance fund that Isaly manages is Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN), a San Diego-based maker of research tools that boost the efficiency of high-speed gene sequencing, spot subtle variations in DNA, and analyze the various methods by which genes can get turned on or off. Although Illumina’s stock has faltered lately on concerns about slower-than-expected sales and profit growth, as a long-term holding, Isaly says, “Illumina has been great.”

Isaly believes advances in gene sequencing will ensure that the long-awaited promise of personalized medicine will come to fruition. As proof, he points to the new Roche drug vemurafenib (Zelboraf), which the FDA approved in August to treatmetastatic melanoma that’s caused by a gene mutation called BRAF. The drug comes with a companion diagnostic to find the patients who have the mutation and thus are most likely to respond to the drug. “There are now more and more therapeutics that are becoming associated with a diagnostic test,” he says. “It could be decades before we can declare it a revolution, but it is surely promising right now.” Roche is the third-largest holding in Isaly’s Eaton Vance fund.

Sam Isaly of OrbiMed Advisors

OrbiMed provided venture funding to Complete Genomics (NASDAQ: GNOM), a Mountain View, CA-based company that staged a successful $54 million IPO in late 2010. It is also a venture backer of Good Start Genetics, a Boston-based company that does genetic testing for prospective parents. “They start with genes of parents and make predictions about the outcomes of the children—pre-conception,” he says. Good Start is based on discoveries from the lab of Harvard genetics professor George Church.

When it comes to health reform—another likely topic of conversation at our panel event—Isaly declares himself an optimist. “We believe [the new law] is going to be implemented and will give a good stimulus to demand” for both health services and products, he says. “It will be positive.” About 10 percent of the Eaton Vance fund’s portfolio is invested in generic drugs—one of the industry segments that will benefit from that boost in demand, he predicts.

At New York Life Sciences 2031, Isaly will be joined by Eric Schadt of Pacific Biosciences, Barbara Dalton of Pfizer’s venture arm, and Sam Waksal of Kadmon. The discussion will be moderated by Les Funtleyder of Miller Tabak. Isaly predicts the panel will offer a good mix of business, entrepreneurial thinking, and “something approaching science fiction,” he says. “These are all forward-thinking people,” he says. “It’s all future. That’s exciting.”

To catch Isaly and all our other esteemed panelists at New York Life Sciences 2031, click here.

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