I was in San Francisco last week for the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, which was fantastic. A couple of people asked about the number of tweets I was posting while there. I didn’t think it was out of the ordinary until I looked at the Twitter data (here and here), compiled by Brian Reid at WCG and Mary Canady at Comprendia. The most striking was the Top Users by Tweet Count, which looks at the number of tweets with the #JPM12 hashtag. There I am, third behind a biotech reporter (Adam Feuerstein from The Street) and an independent coverage company (Biotech Stock Research).
Why would a biotech COO/President tweet so much at an investment bank healthcare conference?
I would argue it wasn’t to fulfill my main JPM goal: business development. A struggle with key conferences is timing your data to have fresh additions to your story to demonstrate clear progress. My target for JPM was exposure data from our ongoing Phase I oncology trial, but by early December it was clear that the data would be delayed. Pharma companies and investors set up days of back-to-back 30 minute to hour long meetings. Rather than push for these slots, most of my scheduled meetings were quick, informal contacts or more leisurely catch up meetings at the end of the day. This year I ended up with almost as many chance meetings in the halls and cocktail events, perhaps because I was open to them rather than rushing along with my head down. Overall, folks know we’re still advancing our drug and that I’ll have more of the package ready soon.
A secondary goal for me at JPM is a reality check on where our drug is in relationship to other drugs in development. Although there is a lot of talk about regional biotech hubs, our drug (and our company) are (and should be) benchmarked against the companies presenting at conferences like this one. As we approach the end of our Phase I trial, our product development plan, sometimes referred to as a target product profile, is increasingly top of mind. Seeing the clinical trial designs, plans for biomarkers (predicting responders), etc. keeps us focused on what we need to accomplish. I attended and took notes at a variety of cancer company presentations, including Exelexis, Aveo, Ariad, Agios, ImmuoGen and Seattle Genetics. As I often do when reading interesting news, I tweeted about what I was hearing – what was interesting or relevant to me.
One of the main benefits was discussing (online and IRL) the information with folks who have been in the industry longer than I have or have different perspectives. While not news themselves, some of the interesting topics I walked away thinking about are:
- Investors and partners have different pressure points.
- For example, a public company that pushes back a deadline suffers more from the market than from potential pharmaceutical partners.
- Setting expectations is critical.
- The CEO at Dendreon told the crowd in the breakout session that they would no longer give monthly sales because they are not predictive of quarterly results.
- When asked about early stage drug candidates, Seattle Genetics’ CEO said they weren’t discussing them because the results of their experiments over the next year will tell them which ones will be most exciting.
- There are significant differences in covering public and private companies.
- Forced transparency of public companies can make it easier to keep track of progress, financial and otherwise.
- Understanding the relationship of dose and efficacy is important throughout all stages of development.
- In cancer, drugs are often given at or near their Maximum Tolerated Dose to have the greatest chance of efficacy. However, dose reductions due to side effects can make it difficult to see the drug’s benefit.
- Exelexis is developing their cMet inhibitor cabozantinib in multiple cancer indications and have found efficacy at doses much lower than those used in some of their late phase trials.
- There are challenges to moving from one stage of drug development to another due to the need for different skill sets.
- The transition from clinical trials to commercial (selling products) was the most prevalent area of difficulty for companies at JPM.
Why would a biotech COO/President tweet so much at an investment bank healthcare conference? Because it resulted in interesting discussions with people who are just as fascinated with cancer drug development as I am. And I learned from each one.