Xconomy Forum: The Biotech Odyssey and Xconomy’s Ode to Innovation and Clean Air

12/15/09Follow @bvbigelow

Leave it to the Greeks to provide an epic mythology for interpreting the essence of biotech innovation.

As John Maraganore of Cambridge, MA-based Alnylam Pharmaceuticals puts it, drug development is a voyage of Odysseus that requires wily and ingenious problem-solving and extraordinary seamanship. Put another way by Kleanthis Xanthopoulos of Carlsbad, CA-based Regulus Therapeutics, the quest of biotech innovation boils down to a succinct question: “How do you build business in an environment that has been challenging and is likely to continue to be challenging in the future?”

Xconomy logoWe got some answers to that question, and much more, yesterday afternoon during our Xconomy Forum event on biotech innovators and innovations, which was held not on a wine-dark sea, but in the Calit2 auditorium at UC San Diego’s Atkinson Hall. (Maraganore announced his Greek heritage at the outset of his opening keynote presentation, which included a brief digression on the Greek origins of “innovation” and “risk.”) One solution voiced by several speakers is that new ideas and synergies arise through collaborations—which have become a hallmark of San Diego’s life sciences community.

We also heard leading experts talk about the importance of identifying unmet clinical needs, the ingredients of a corporate culture that encourages innovation, and the need to develop multiple drug candidates to increase the number of “shots on goal.”

Xconomy’s national biotech editor Luke Timmerman, who served as the master of ceremonies for the afternoon event, also organized a series of presentations that we billed as case studies in innovation: Fate Therapeutics CEO Paul Grayson on the development of technologies that rely on adult stem cells; Intellikine CEO Troy Wilson on the potential fusillade of new drugs targeting PI3 kinase pathways; and Regulus CEO Xanthopoulos (uh, he’s also Greek) on its approach to a host of new micro-RNA-based therapies.

The audience at Xconomy Forum Monday

The audience at Xconomy Forum Monday

The presentations and discussions culminated in a conversation with David Baltimore, the Nobel laureate and Caltech president emeritus, who says his favorite model for biotech innovation “is to keep it in the academic world until a clear path forward is apparent, and we see a way to bring it to commercialization.”

Alnylam CEO Maraganore charted the route that Alnylam followed in its development of RNA interference drugs, which included raising more than $900 million over the past seven years, including roughly $660 million raised through partnerships with Big Pharma.

Maraganore says several large pharmaceutical companies have turned to a younger generation of scientific leaders because the industry is both starved for new drug candidates and constipated by its inability to bring new drugs to market. In building an environment to … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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